Monday, February 25, 2008
Pros fear new towers at World Trade Center site have security gaps
by greg b. smith and douglas feiden
daily news staff writers
Sunday, February 24th 2008, 4:00 AM
Law enforcement officials have major concerns about security weaknesses in the planned World Trade Center complex, a Daily News investigation has found.
The potential problems expressed to the Port Authority and others involved in the most high-profile development project in New York City history include:
A row of three mostly glass towers positioned too closely to city streets, increasing their vulnerability to attack.
Difficulties in inspecting some 2,000 delivery trucks and sightseeing buses that will enter or leave the site daily.
A vehicle security center that hasn't been fully designed and relies on vehicle inspection technology that hasn't even been developed yet.
Asked about weaknesses uncovered by The News in the plans for rebuilding Ground Zero, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said, "The NYPD has been in talks with the Port Authority, but we don't disclose any information about possible security vulnerabilities for obvious reasons."
Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund said the agency is "very confident that the entire rebuilt WTC site - every building and every square inch - will operate with an unprecedented level of safety and security."
Michael Balboni, Gov. Spitzer's deputy secretary for public safety, emphasized, "At the end of the day, this will be one of the most secure footprints on the globe."
Law enforcement counterterrorism specialists have pinpointed serious flaws in key components of the Trade Center site, including three of the signature office towers projected to open by 2012.
Towers 2, 3 and 4 - which will rise between Greenwich and Church Sts. to 79, 71 and 64 stories, respectively - contain too much glass, sources familiar with the issues said.
They also are not set back far enough from the two streets - where uninspected trucks will whiz by - to meet the most rigorous security standards, the sources said.
"The reimposition of the street grid is an integral part of the plan to bring vibrancy to lower Manhattan," said Avi Schick, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
"The administration understands the need to balance that goal with legitimate security concerns."
Another concern: The buildings do not meet Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security blast standards. That means they can withstand certain types of explosions - but not more powerful blasts.
The DOD blast standards - rarely applied to U.S. skyscrapers - are typically used in U.S. embassies and missions abroad, sensitive government facilities and military bases.
Counterterrorism officials contend that because of the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and Al Qaeda's pattern of repeatedly striking targets, DOD blast standards should be used in the Ground Zero buildings.
"The plans have been out for quite a while on these buildings, and it would have been nice to voice these concerns at the start rather than wait until now," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents lower Manhattan. "The community wants to move forward."
A spokesman for Larry Silverstein, the developer of the three towers, declined to comment on security issues.
Silverstein's buildings - including a 1,270-foot giant that will be taller than the Empire State Building - have been designed with a steel-encased concrete core and engineered with safety systems exceeding the city's building code and the requirements of the Port Authority, his company says.
The Freedom Tower's extra safety measures - including being set back farther from the street, thicker glass and upgraded blast standards - were done after the NYPD raised questions about the building's weaknesses. Similar changes were made to the trade center's transportation hub after issues arose.
Asked about the overall effort to ensure the new trade center is secure, James Kallstrom, the former director of the FBI's New York office and former Gov. George Pataki's homeland security chief, said: "It's complicated. It's a very crowded area. It's not easy ... It's going to require state-of-the-art technology and competent, trained manpower."
The need for screening every single truck entering the area and the difficulties of carefully managing inspections were key issues Kallstrom addressed in a report he completed before leaving government last year.
Kallstrom and Balboni declined to discuss the report's recommendations, though Balboni said most were being implemented.
While inspecting thousands of vehicles a day is tough enough, the problem is more complicated in lower Manhattan because of narrow streets and thick traffic.
"We can't let anything enter the underground in that acreage that could have the potential for certain size devices or bombs without proper screening," Kallstrom said.
All delivery trucks and buses will access the complex through a new Vehicular Security Center, an underground complex with an entrance and exit on Liberty St. that will function as the central security checkpoint.
The $478 million project has been on the drawing boards since 2003 and was to start last April, but all the Port Authority has done is move some utilities and sewer lines.
Delays in demolition of the toxic former Deutsche Bank tower have made it close to impossible for construction of the subterranean project to begin.
Bids for a contractor haven't gone out, and excavation of the so-called south bathtub for the center hasn't begun, the bistate agency confirmed.
"Obviously, the fact that [Deutsche Bank] is not down presents some serious challenges to the VSC," Sigmund said.
There's more: The design and engineering specifications, which the Port Authority said in 2006 were being finalized, are not ready, and the screening technology does not exist.
Nevertheless, the PA said the Vehicular Security Center is set to be finished when the other buildings come on line, by 2011 or 2012.
"We will have the appropriate technology to do the screening when the VSC is completed," Sigmund said, noting the facility will meet DOD and Homeland Security standards.
Sigmund said they would inspect vehicles "off-site or in a holding area if necessary," declining to specify where it would take place.
That's a nightmare scenario for downtown residents, who say they're worried the Sept. 11 museum and other buildings will open before the Vehicular Security Center is completed, compromising security and the quality of life.
Asked if he was troubled the center has fallen behind schedule, Balboni said: "I'm not concerned yet, but that could change. We're watching it very closely."
Well... Leaping Lizards, Daddy Starbucks!!! Ya think you could'a said something like, oh, two years ago???
Actually, I was wondering why the FT and 7 WTC had to have bunkers for a base, but towers 2, 3, and 4 were good to go as conventional structures.
The thing is: fortified bases would have done nothing for the original Twins, because airplanes were flown into them. It seems to me that the best way to protect the entire complex is to be proactive in fighting terrorism, and to provide human
security at the WTC site.
BTW, I hope the NYPD understands they just made it 100 fold harder for Silverstein to find clients for his new towers, and that JPMorgan can scarcely be blamed for reconsidering their commitment to build their own tower at the Center.