A Circle Line train leaving Edgware Road on July 7, 2005, was one of three attacked in London. (Courtesty of flickr user otama)
Maybe in New York we overlook what happened in London in July of 2005. Maybe we chalk it up to the Olympics announcement and the Muslim-European tensions that have long been simmering in cities across the Atlantic from us. Or maybe we don’t focus on it because we’re afraid that it could happen here, and we don’t know how to protect ourselves from such an attack.
In fact, that’s exactly how New York’s anti-terrorism chief feels, and he let his feelings be known in Washington this week. Speaking in front of the House Homeland Security Committee this week, Deputy New York Police Department Commissioner Richard Falkenrath stressed the vulnerability of the New York City transportation system and the vulnerabilities in similar systems across the country. In his testimony, Falkenrath really laid into the politics and policies that plague the Department of Homeland Security, a government agency that has succumbed to politics in doling out its money. amNY reported:
Despite [22 bomb threats and 31 intelligence threats related to subway attack threats this year] and a spate of deadly train bombings in London, Madrid and Mumbai, India, Falkenrath, a former White House homeland security official, said the federal government has done little to protect the nation’s subway and rail systems.
“Given the severity of the terrorist threat to the U.S. mass transit system … the disparity between the federal investment in aviation security and … mass transit security is a national embarrassment,” he said…”Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the field of homeland security has been gripped by a mania for plans, strategies and other mandatory reports … They are of almost no value to operating agencies in the field; and they seem to be ignored by virtually everyone except the government contractors paid to verify that the reporting requirements have been met.”
As Falkenrath noted, even those plans approved by DHS don’t target the country’s vulnerable areas in a way acceptable to the people on the ground. For example, a proposed bill that would earmark $4 billion for rail and tunnel security in the U.S. allows for spending only on equipment and not the people needed to defend the subways.
“This bias pervades virtually all homeland security grant programs,” he said. “It is a reflection of the interests of government vendors, who sell more products, and federal auditors, whose jobs are simplified when grants can be connected to invoices.” You tell ’em, Richard.
Falkenrath, meanwhile, estimated that the city needs 2700 cops a day to guard the hundreds of exits and entrances into the subway system. Simply put, we need the money to pay people to defend the subways, fancy equipment or not.
Outrageously, though, as CBS reported tonight, the federal government is pandering to the people in spending. The government spends nearly $7.50 per passenger on airport security and just 1.5¢. This besides that fact that simply locking and reinforcing cockpit doors could stave off nearly every airplane hijacking attempt. But hey, we didn’t vote for Bush in 2000 or 2004; why should we get the money or sensible policies?
While federal agents in New York and Washington are attempting to teach old dogs new bombing sniffing tricks, something tells me that just won’t be enough. If someone’s about to blow themselves up in the subway, having a dog point out that fact will simply lead to one more dead dog.
While the editorial pages of the Daily News were the only ones to take a stand on this issue, calling, as I am, for the government to listen to the New York officials outlining what they need to protect the city’s subways.
In his testimony, Falkenrath painted a dire picture of an attack on New York’s subways. “I go to work every morning … with the mindset that today will be the day that terrorists strike New York City again. The most likely scenario, I believe, is an attack in the subway system with multiple, near-simultaneous satchel bombs,” he said.
To me, this doesn’t seem far-fetched. I was in Europe on July 7, 2005. I saw the reaction of the citizens of the EU as bombs exploded in London’s subways. Just days before, I was on the Metro in Madrid and Barcelona, blissfully unaware that anyone on the train could have been carrying a bomb.
In the States, we think of terrorism as grand acts. We think of airplanes striking buildings and men driving trucks filled with explosives into big stationery targets. But ask people in London, Dubai, Madrid and Tel Aviv. Ask them about suicide bombs on buses and near-simultaneous explosions on subways.
Do we in New York have to wait to become victims before the federal government will act appropriately? I sure hope not.