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Just who are these guys trying to intimidate?

NO ONE sees them coming. There are no flashing lights, no sirens. The black Suburban simply glides out of Fifth Avenue traffic and pulls into a no-parking zone in front of the Empire State Building. Moments later, four men spill out in combat helmets and heavy body armor: Two carry submachine guns; the others, snub-nosed shotguns.

NYC Hercules Team
NYPD ‘Hercules’ team

Camera-toting tourists stop jabbering and stare at this intimidating new presence, their faces a mixture of curiosity and fear. Even jaded New Yorkers, many of whom work inside the midtown Manhattan landmark, look impressed.

A stone’s throw down the sidewalk, Abad Nieves watches the scene unfold. Nieves is a detective with the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Casually clad in slacks and a black leather jacket, he monitors the response of people loitering in the area. Is anyone making notes or videotaping? Does anyone seem especially startled by the out-of-the-blue appearance of a heavily armed NYPD squad?

On this day, Nieves doesn’t see anything overly suspicious, but he is pleased that the deployment created a strong impression. Known as a Hercules team, it makes multiple appearances around the city each day. The locations are chosen either in response to specific intelligence or simply to provide a show of force at high-profile sites.

“The response we usually get is, ‘Holy s—!'” Nieves says. “That’s the reaction we want. We are in the business of scaring people–we just want to scare the right people.”

Do you really think these guys are going to scare committed, fanatical terrorists who expect immediate access to 72 beautiful, willing virgins when they die? Me, neither.

So, then, who are they really trying to scare?

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