Is the NYPD equipped to shoot down airplanes?
That quote comes from yesterday’s “60 Minutes” interview with New York City’s Policy Commissioner Ray Kelly. Here is a slightly expanded version:
Pelley: Are you satisfied that you’ve dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?
Kelly: Well, it’s something that’s on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.
Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?
Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.
Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.
Obviously, this script and the actual footage have likely undergone some editing.
In addition, the phrase “take down” does have different meanings in this context. Kelly could be suggesting that a local police force (albeit the largest in the nation and one leaning so forward in terms of counter-terrorism that if it had a nose it might be touching the ground) has the ability to shoot down an aircraft in flight.
Or he could be suggesting that if terrorists took the passengers of any particular airplane hostage, NYPD now has a dedicated force knowledgeable and practiced at assaulting the airplane while on the ground and rescuing the hostages.
The second option would be impressive, but not surprising.
The first would be shocking and not just a little worrisome.
Update: During a 7-hour drive today, I had a little time to think about this issue. My first reaction upon reading the AP report was that a statement was taken out of context and used for a short, sensational news piece. I would guess the vast majority of knowledgeable people thought that Kelly was naturally speaking of “take down” in terms of a tactical SWAT operation. However, there may be a little bit more to this than that simple explanation.
Two assumptions: (1) While I did not watch the actual televised interview, I’m assuming both it and the transcript were not edited and this piece of the conversation took place exactly as publicized; and (2) that Ray Kelly is not just a professional but an incredibly smart and savvy political player–and that is meant as a compliment in terms of a specific skill set.
I interpret the reporter’s question not to mean a threat from a plane sitting on a local tarmac, whether that means hostages or simply a known terrorist situation. Hence the inclusion of light and model planes–threats not usually thought of requiring a response from an armed team on the ground–unless, of course, the plot is discovered in advance. However, I would wager the reporter was speaking of 9/11 and lesser scenarios where the aircraft is in the air, and “take down” means knock it out of the air.
Kelly might have been confused by the question, though I doubt it (see assumption 2). Instead, I’m thinking he either might have understood but had no answer that did not include non-NYPD assistance (not the point of the interview) and resorted to speaking of a situation where a SWAT team could be utilized. If later pushed for clarification, he could simply explain that he was not talking about shooting aircraft out of the sky but “taking down” in the tactical operational sense.
Or, with a dash more deviousness, he might have understood the reporter’s question to mean shooting down an aircraft in flight and made use of dual definition of “take down” to suggest NYPD had such a capability, knowing that if later pushed for clarification he could explain he meant a particular SWAT ability to storm a plane on a tarmac. In this instance, however, instead of simply wishing to keep the focus of the interview on the NYPD he understood what the headline would be–“NYPD has the capability to take down aircraft”–and hoped that it would add to the efforts at deterring terrorists from striking New York City. Regardless of the veracity of the statement, if some wannabe terrorists are thinking of using a light plane filled with explosives to strike a target in the City, perhaps there is a chance they would reconsider if they even thought for a moment that the NYPD had their own anti-aircraft capability.
A bit conspiratorial, but I did have a lot of time on my hands during the drive…
Update 2: Apparently while I was in the car, Noah Shachtman of Wired’s “Danger Room” blog not only addressed the deterrent effect of Kelly’s comments but also filled in the blank concerning NYPD’s capability in this regard: he may have been speaking of actually shooting down a plane (not just using SWAT vernacular regarding a ground assault) and it is by means of a .50 caliber rifle: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/can-the-nypd-shoot-down-a-plane-kinda-sorta-not-exactly/