New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg says we'll never, ever know how many terrorist plots the New York Police Department actually stopped because the number could be between 1 and 100.
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Bloomberg was asked by NY1 reporter Josh Rubin how confident he was in the NYPD's oft-cited statistic that they've stopped 14 terrorist plots since 9/11. ProPublica's Justin Elliott published a story earlier Tuesday that called that number into question. This was Bloomberg's full answer to Rubin's question, according to Capital New York:
"Well, you know, you pose a question that there is no ways to prove one way or another. But let me point out to you, we haven't had one. Let's assume it's one they thwarted instead of 14. And it could very well be 28, because nobody really knows how many people. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. The terrorists only have to be right once, and you're dead. Now you want to make some noise about the study. They can study anything they want. I don't know how you'd prove it one way or another. But I could make as cogent an argument that there's double or triple the number that was stopped, we just don't know about it."
Emphasis ours. We honestly don't know how many terrorist plots we've stopped, because the number is either very small or very large, and we lose count really easily, says the mayor. Elliott's story is pretty great, and nails a bunch of the NYPD's favorite moments using news reports of the plots that don't mention the NYPD's involvement at all.
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The brave NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne decided he couldn't take it anymore, and that he wasn't waiting for the PR person to come over to his desk and prepare a press release. He went right into the heart of the beast and became a commenter. He commented on Elliott's story, saying:
The NYPD never said it stopped 14 terrorist plots. We’ve repeatedly said that New York City was the target of at least 14 terrorist plots since 9/11 because it is a fact. Critics want others to believe that terrorists who failed were not threats. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you – one that al-Qaeda hoped to destroy.
One problem: this is a NYPD website, linked in Elliott's story, listing 14 plots they've stopped. Elliot responded in the comments too, saying:
We appreciate the NYPD’s response. But contrary to the deputy commissioner’s comments above, department officials have claimed credit for helping thwart 14 plots.
Mitchell Silber, Director of Intelligence Analysis, NYPD Intelligence Division, said the following while testifying on Capitol Hill in March, “We built an intelligence and counterterrorism program that has served as a deterrent and has helped to protect the city from fourteen terrorist plots since September 11, 2001.”
And then ProPublica's Eric Umansky weighed in:
In the comments above, the NYPD deputy commissioner says the department “has never said it stopped 14 terrorist plots.”
Our reporter Justin Elliot has already offered one statement from a top cop showing that’s not the case.
Here’s another: At a graduation ceremony for new officers less than two weeks ago, NYPD commissioner Kelly said the following: “Together our Federal partners, the Police Department has helped defeat 14 terrorist plots against New York City.”
This is how the Mayor's office and the NYPD handle problems in the summer: they send the mayor to an outdoor public event where he can offer a bad answer to an important question, and they send the NYPD spokesperson into the story's comment section to helplessly defend himself. Great job, guys. It's working well so far.