Two Years After 9/11, Security Still Has a Long Way To Go
By Rocco Parascandola
Date: September 08, 2003
Two years after 9/11, security in New York City has been tight enough that an Ohio truck driver was arrested for plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, yet loose enough that three young fishermen were able to wander around the tarmac at Kennedy Airport. A fingerprint match is required to enter Police Headquarters, yet two young men were mistakenly able to gain access to the NYPD's emergency operations nerve center.
As the two-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks approaches, New York has experienced significant security breakdowns and inconsistencies. Still, this much is certain: Despite those breaches, New York's police, the FBI, and Port Authority police seem better prepared today than they were a year ago to track terrorists, share intelligence information and respond to acts of terror.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," says James Kallstrom, the former head of the FBI's New York office and currently Gov. George Pataki's senior adviser for counterterrorism. "I think we understand the threat and we have a good understanding of the things we have to do."
A high-ranking police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agrees with that assessment, but says there is still a long way to go.
"The progress has been incremental," the official says. "We know a lot more about the enemy than we used to and I think the feds have realized that human sources are the best way -- talking to people....But there's a lot more to learn.
"We don't know what we don't know," the official added. "It's hard to measure a negative."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and other law enforcement officials say that as Sept. 11 approaches no specific threat has been made against New York City. Yet on any given day, NYPD counterterrorism teams are out monitoring sensitive locations, such as Wall Street and the United Nations, while cops in the Aviation Unit are crisscrossing the city about a half-dozen times, flying past nearly 20 sensitive locations.
At the same time, FBI agents and other cops, many fluent in the foreign languages spoken by the key terror organizations, are surfing the Internet, looking for clues in chat rooms as well as foreign publications.
John Frazzini, a former U.S. Secret Service cyber crime investigator and currently a vice president at iDEFENSE, a private intelligence and security company that works with a number of law enforcement agencies and major corporations, says such policing, while still relatively new to the NYPD, is essential because terrorists are increasingly reliant on computers to spread their philosophy and plan their attacks.
Still, other law enforcement officials say, there is no replacing old-fashioned, street-level policing, which is why the NYPD now has cops stationed in several foreign cities. Police officers are stationed in Toronto, London, Hamburg, Lyon, France and Tel Aviv. Recently, two other intelligence officers were dispatched to Singapore to confer with an expert on al-Qaida.
The Port Authority, meanwhile, is embarking on the monumental task of fortifying its bridges, tunnels, airports and marine terminals.
Sources say the bi-state agency plans improvements as basic as erecting fences and as involved as installing security systems that may include the ability to identify employees and travelers by their irises.
A number of high-profile arrests, here and elsewhere, have been held up as examples of victory in the war on terror. Still, the road to success has been anything but smooth.
The night of the nation's worst blackout in history, on Aug. 14, two young men slipped past three police checkpoints and gained access to Police Headquarters' emergency operations center. They were later determined to be two police buffs who meant no harm and were not arrested.
Earlier that week, three lost fishermen wandered around a Kennedy Airport runway for more than an hour, undetected.
Kallstrom says the security breaches illustrate how difficult it is to make security improvements in a society that until two years ago viewed terrorism as foreign issue.
"It's not going to happen overnight," Kallstrom said. "Some of these things we want to do happen quickly and some of them don't happen quickly."
For instance, he says, while there is more cooperation between federal and local authorities, there is not yet an efficient system that would allow a cop in a small upstate town, for instance, to determine if the truck driver he just pulled over is on a federal watch list.
"There's a way," Kallstrom says, "but not an efficient, quick way. That's something we're working on."
After the case of the wayward fishermen came to light, Gus Danese, head of the PA Police Benevolent Association, said decreased patrol coverage likely contributed to the breach.
"Hopefully, in a very short period of time, things will change and the attitude toward security at the Port Authority will also change," he says. "Money is a concern, but we have to find a balance between money and the need to have the right amount of security."
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