Tuesday August 1, 2007

New York's Easiest Target

The Whitehall Ferry Terminal, opened in 2005, seems easy-pickings for the evil-minded

By Marc-Yves Tumin

We were crossing the 59th Street Bridge last week. The view was great but the driver was incensed. The Examiner goes to press in Long Island City. I go there to watch it print. Now I was returning to Manhattan.

My regular driver's from India. As usual, we were having a good chat. I mentioned the war on terror. He lost his patience.

He urged America to get serious before it's too late. He implored his adopted country to stop the killers. "Americans are asleep!" he said over and over. I think he was right.

From the upper level, I gazed at the great city. And I sensed that an awful tragedy is looming. It could hit us in our weakest spot. It could happen in the most obvious place. It could occur on our undefended doorstep.

The trouble is, most people are not security-minded. Our leaders are either too thick or too sensitive. And the press won't call a spade a spade. Let's sketch the scene.

The setting is the Battery in Lower Manhattan, where history began. The new Whitehall Ferry Terminal opened there in February 2005. It cost $201 million. It has a 19,000-square-foot waiting room. It's easy pickings for the evil-minded.

There's another potential target across the harbor. The renovated St. George Terminal opened in May 2005. It cost $130 million. Both are sitting ducks for suicide bombers.

The City Department of Transportation manages the terminals. They're governed by U.S. Coast Guard rules and regulations. However, DOT insiders told me security is poor. Convenience is the watchword. Incidents have been kept from the press.

Signs around the terminals usually say they're "in MARSEC Security Level 2." They refer to three levels of threat to Maritime Security. Level 2 means there's a "heightened risk of a transportation security incident...."

AlliedBarton Security Services helps protect the terminals. You don't need a high school diploma to work for them. You don't even need a GED.

There's also a man with a bomb-sniffing dog. Too bad thousands of people surround it at rush hour. The opportunity for mayhem is enormous.

Each terminal has a police room. Sometimes, cops man a folding table near the turnstiles. They inspect bags at random. An empty squad car is parked downstairs at Whitehall, sometimes.

Sometimes, harbor patrol boats accompany the ferries. Sometimes, a few police officers are posted aboard the boats. There are some security cameras. There are some deckhands. That's the whole ball of wax.

There are eight boats in the Staten Island ferry fleet. They carry 65,000 passengers a day. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, they banned cars. The boats make 110 trips a day on weekdays and 64 a day on weekends. That's more than 33,000 voyages a year... They're all at risk.

There are eight boats in the Staten Island ferry fleet. They carry 65,000 passengers a day. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, they banned cars. The boats make 110 trips a day on weekdays and 64 a day on weekends. That's more than 33,000 voyages a year.

The two Barberi-class vessels each hold up to 6,000 passengers. They have a crew of 15. The three Molinari-class vessels each hold 4,400 souls. The single Kennedy-class vessel holds 3,500. The two Austen-class vessels each hold 1,280. They're all at risk.

The terrorists would choose a bright and sunny day. It could be weekday rush hour or a holiday weekend. Above all, they'd want maximum publicity.

Maybe three-dozen terrorists would appear at the Battery and St. George. They'd be between the ages of 24 and 40. They'd dress like tourists. They'd infiltrate the ferry terminals.

Some would mingle with the legions of people. Some would linger in the restrooms. Some would board the doomed vessels.

Battery Park, next to the Whitehall Terminal, is often crowded. Recently, it's become a rock concert venue. Terrorists could easily blend in with the other visitors.

They could slip into the Staten Island Yankees ballpark. It's adjacent to the St. George Terminal. They could gather at the waterfront park next door. They could muster in the dim parking lot below.

Five minutes into the voyage, the terrorists would don bandannas. They'd produce machine guns and hand grenades. They'd invade the passenger cabins. They'd seize the engine room. They'd blow in the pilothouse door. They'd slaughter the crew and commandeer the vessels.

The terrorists could ram the boats into each other. They could plow into the terminals. They could crash into a cruise ship. They could bowl into the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island.

Most likely, the crisscrossing ferries would shudder to a halt, opposite each other. The terrorists would broadcast their intentions. The press would be transfixed. The public would be horrified.

One thing's certain. The terrorists would torture and massacre the passengers. Then the doomed boats would be set ablaze and blown up. The fireballs would be visible from shore.

As the harbor holocaust unfolded, there'd be panic ashore. The terrorists would attack the terminals. The police would be outgunned, the security guards helpless. Until backup arrived, the madmen would run amok.

They'd blitz the terminal entrances. They'd wipe out subway stations. They'd commandeer buses. They'd decimate the park. They'd lock down New York Plaza. Thousands would die.

Congress is eager to take its summer recess. Too bad the terrorists are not scheduling a holiday. Mr. Mayor, there's a way to prevent this disaster. Put a squad of police on every ferry. Give them the weapons they need. And mandate airport security for the city's weakest spot: the ferry terminals.

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