The War On Terror: Stepping Up Summer Security
Security has been beefed up around bridges like the Queensborough Bridge following recent terror warnings. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
By Liz Goff
As Queens residents barbecued, marched in parades and relaxed this Memorial Day, the warnings of possible terror threats on the United States that the Department of Homeland Security and The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued on May 26 loomed in the background.
The threats, which were based on “credible” information, state that terrorists are prepared to launch an attack on a major American city between Memorial Day and September.
Security is being stepped up at bridges and tunnels and at airports, and law enforcement officials are planning to take extra precautions throughout the summer.
But according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Queens is being led by the best counterterrorism officials, and will be ready for anything.
Taking It In Stride
Queens residents took the May 26 terror warnings in stride, spending the Memorial Day weekend at street festivals, backyard barbeques and shopping malls.
“It isn’t surprising that people didn’t go through the weekend looking over their shoulders,” said Police Commisioner Ray Kelly. “People know that New York City is as prepared as it can be for any disaster. We are at a higher state of readiness than the rest of the country, and we will continue to be vigilant in a variety of ways.”
Kelly added, “Queens is prepared. And people in the borough are lucky to have two of the best NYPD counterterrorism experts in charge of operations.”
Kelly was describing the efforts of Deputy Inspector Sal DePace, head of NYPD Counterterrorism in Queens North, and Deputy Inspector Gary Scirica, head of Counterterrorism in Queens South.
Both men bring years of experience to the job, along with “street smarts” and hands-on knowledge of Queens neighborhoods and its diverse population.
And both men will help lead the charge to keep Queens safe through the busy summer.
Most Queens residents believe Manhattan is a likely terror target, but they are also keenly aware of its closeness to the borough. With two bridges, a tunnel and miles of subway and rail track linking Queens to Manhattan, securing the borough is no small task.
The terror alert issued by federal officials on May 26 includes a plea for New Yorkers to be on the lookout for seven individuals identified as terrorists, who are in the United States and who “pose a significant, credible threat.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft urged New Yorkers to “be on the lookout for each of the seven individuals, who pose a clear and present danger to America.”
Ashcroft said interrupted communications showed that the individuals – al Qaeda members – are “90 percent” ready and able to strike, as of May 11. The terror warning extends through November – through the presidential election and the World Series, officials said.
Sources said the Arab terrorists – possibly traveling with children, posing as pregnant women, or Europeans, might try to attack during the elections, Fourth of July celebrations and other high-profile occasions.
Fourth of July revelers throughout the city can expect to be searched, scanned and videotaped by Federal law enforcement agents and city cops.
“There’s no doubt about it. This will be the toughest summer and fall, security-wise,” the sources said.
Helicopters and remote-controlled cameras will scan crowds at high-profile events, with police monitoring live video feeds at a secure location, the sources said.
Beefed-up presence at high profile events won’t result in increased crime in other neighborhoods, said Kelly.
“We will be prepared to handle any contingency,” he said.
Sources said the NYPD is more concerned about possible threats to crowds than the crowds themselves.
“We will search and scan people for the highest degree of security that’s possible,” the sources said.
“It is our job to scour the entire event by overview,” they said.
The latest terror warnings contained information that terrorists could launch an attack similar to those held on Sept. 11, 2001.
Sky SecurityHometown Hero
The mandate for safety in the skies immediately following Sept. 11 was urgent and simple: fix it, fix it fast and spare no expense.
One result was the creation of the $5-billion-a-year Federal Transportation Security Administration. The agency hires and maintains airport screeners who are paid more than security personnel and are trained better to spot suspicious parcels and passenger activity.
Airlines have equipped planes with bulletproof cockpit doors and the government and the airline industry have tightened security on freight carried on passenger and cargo airlines.
Thousands of explosive detection machines have been installed at airport checkpoints nationwide, locally at Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports. The CTX5000 scanners can now detect traces of explosives on passengers – as well as explosive devices inside luggage.
Under Federal mandate, the government launched a program to train pilots to carry firearms on board aircraft. Many pilots feel the program is moving too slowly and that the number of federal air marshals on passenger aircraft is still too few.
Many Queens residents feel that air travel is safer than pre-Sept. 11 and that the government is “working hard” to protect passengers – but clearly there are many concerns about the individuals and conditions that cannot be “controlled” and “unforeseen action,” according to air travelers at JFK Airport May 30.
“The best thing to is to go about your business as you did prior to Sept. 11.”
That’s what Bloomberg advised city straphangers to do. “Leave security to us,” he said. “Us” is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The agency has increased police presence on the subways, in tunnels and has spent the last year building “terror boxes” along strategically located “subway lines” – including elevated lines in Queens.
The high-tech rooms protect subway tracks on the elevated “N” line in Astoria and Long Island City. Transit cops will man the booths to thwart possible terrorist activities and each booth is equipped with monitors that track platform activity.
Police have encased cables outside the booths in explosive-proof material to thwart any attempt to cut off surveillance.
The MTA last week laid out a new set of rules for security on the rails.
Videotaping and photo-taking is prohibited on subways, platforms and at stations.
Straphangers are prohibited from walking through subway cars, all car doors will be locked, MTA officials said.
Trains will be stopped and emptied on occasion to allow cops access to “walk through” and check for packages, devices and explosive materials.
“As with all security, it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see.” Bloomberg said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer this week called for tighter controls on the thousands of trucks that pass through the city each year. Schumer called for background checks of all truck drivers, mandated trucking technology and a database to monitor hazardous materials on the road.
“Terrorists look for where we’re not doing enough,” Schumer said.
An internal NYPD memo has warned of terrorists acquiring commercial drivers licenses in order to use tanker trucks as improvised weapons of mass destruction, sources said.
The New Jersey State Office of Counterterrorism confirmed that two gasoline tanker trucks have been missing from a Pennsauken firm since April 8. Investigators are trying to locate the tankers - a task that would be made faster and more precise by tracking devices installed in the rigs, Schumer said.
A City cop from Bayside accomplished what federal investigators were unable to do — crack the case against Abu Hamza al-Masri, the fanatical Islamic preacher who has urged jihad against the United States for more than four years.
NYPD Detective George Corey joined the FBI/ NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Police officials said Corey was certain that he had to join the task force, even after knowing it would take him away from his wife and children for months at a time.
The 40-year-old Bayside native was praised by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last week for his key role in cracking the case against al-Masri.
Kelly said Corey is an expert interviewer who was able to obtain crucial evidence against al-Masri from a terror sispect jailed for trying to establish a jihad taining camp in Oregon.
Corey began his NYPD career as a Bronx beat cop and later worked at the Queens Narcotics Squad. Corey was assigned to the Organized Crime Investigation Division and worked on the high-profile Trade Waste Commission case, which was credited with taking down Mafia in the waste-hauling racket, police officials said.
“We’re proud of him,” they said.
al-Masri, a one-eyed, hook handed radical who praised the Sept. 11 attacks, will be held in Britain until U.S.
official scan extradite him on an 11-count indictment obtained on information gathered by Corey and other Task Force members.
— Liz Goff