The arrest of the would-be subway bombers took place barely forty-eight hours before the opening of the Republican convention in New York. As a result, it was, for the most part, a one-day news event. While under different circumstances the successful undercover police operation might have been a significant ongoing story, given the timing, it was swallowed up by convention coverage.
Consequently, police department brass couldn't have been more eager when I approached them about doing a piece that examined the undercover operation. They were so eager, in fact, they did something they never do-they gave me access and details against the wishes of the U.S. Attorney's office. The accused terrorists hadn't even been indicted yet and the U.S. Attorney's office was taking great pains to insure that nothing interfered with the successful prosecution of the suspects. This included a ban on talking to the media.
But the cops desperately wanted this story told. Three years ago, when Ray Kelly became New York City's Police Commissioner, he revamped the NYPD to deal with the dangers of a post-9/11 world. He created a counterterrorism unit, he hired talent from the CIA and the military, and he vowed that fighting terrorism would be just as important as fighting street crime.
However, when you're battling street crime, success and failure are easy to measure. Murder goes up or goes down. Rapes increase or they decrease. But how do you effectively measure the terrorist acts that didn't happen? The ones all the painstaking work may have prevented? In fact, most of the successes will never be made public.
Telling the story of the arrests of James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj gave the NYPD an unusual opportunity to get the word out.