High Profile Terror Suspects Arrive in NYC Without Much Fanfare

Monday, October 08, 2012

In 2009, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to try the alleged mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,  in a civilian court in Lower Manhattan it caused a firestorm of criticism and raised security concerns. Federal prosecutors on Saturday announced the arrival of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric and alleged terrorist mastermind linked to al-Qaida, for trial in that same civilian court without either. 

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Transportation Nation

Some Air Travelers Are Actually Happy. Yes, You Read That Right

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“It's game-changing. Amazing. It's the best.”

In the 11 years since Al-Qaeda terrorists used passenger planes as weapons on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, air travelers have rarely used such words to describe the airport security experience. But that could be changing at airports across the country.

“It honestly has changed everything,” says Neal Lassila, a tech company executive, describing how easily he sails through security now thanks to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program.

Lassila was interviewed by Transportation Nation after taking all of 90 seconds to pass through a new screening checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington that was built specifically for PreCheck “known travelers.”

“I travel quite a bit so getting in and out of security was a bit of a hassle,” the Los Angeles resident said.

Lassila didn’t have to take off his shoes or belt -- or even open his bag -- on the way through the checkpoint.  He had been pre-screened after successfully applying for the TSA program through his airline as a frequent flier.  His ‘known traveler’ number is now embedded in the bar code of his boarding pass.

TSA officials invited reporters to attend a news conference inside the Dulles main terminal on Tuesday to check out the new checkpoint and interview travelers who have been accepted into the PreCheck program, which marks a shift in the one-size-fits-all security template used on all travelers after 9/11.

“I had to give them my driver’s license, a working passport, and I had to show them my birth certificate to prove who I was and that the documents matched me,” said Rich Hubner, a Virginia resident who travels frequently for his environmental science career.

Hubner applied for the PreCheck expedited screening program through the government’s Global Entry system which requires a short, in-person interview with security personnel to verify his identity.  Becoming eligible for the program removed all the hassle of long lines at security checkpoints.

“Cooler minds have prevailed finally,” he said.

Dulles is the 26th airport where PreCheck is operating.  TSA hopes to expand the program to 35 airports by the end of the year.  Three million passengers have been screened through PreCheck to date, according to TSA administrator John Pistole.  But he said Dulles is a special case. “Dulles International is the first airport in the nation to build a new checkpoint that is dedicated only to TSA PreCheck operations,” he said at the news conference. “If we have determined that a passenger is eligible for expedited screening, that information will have been embedded on the bar code of your boarding pass.”

There are some caveats: only frequent fliers of certain airlines, like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways or Alaska Airlines are eligible right now.  And pre-screened passengers won't necessarily fly through security every time. The TSA website warns that the agency "will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening."

To see a list of airports that have PreCheck, go here.

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The Takeaway

Controversial AP Report: NYPD Surveillance of Muslims Generated No Leads

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New York Police Department's controversial surveillance of Muslim and Middle-Eastern communities did not generate any new leads or investigations related to terrorisms, according to the latest in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Associated Press. The NYPD, in turn, contends no leads were developed because that program did not conduct investigations.

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The New Yorker: Political Scene

Steve Coll and Amy Davidson on Obama's kill list and U.S. counter-terrorism policy.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Steve Coll and Amy Davidson on Obama's kill list and U.S. counter-terrorism policy.


Transportation Nation

NY MTA's $1.35 Million Mistake

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

Now we know.

The New York MTA spent $1.35 million on giant granite bollards that it later removed outside the Atlantic Terminal station.

To put that in perspective, a year of service* on the B51 bus line, which the MTA discontinued in 2010, cost $800,000 a year.

The bollards, much-reviled by architects and planners and panned by the Brooklyn Paper as "sarcophagi," were installed in 2010 for unspecified security reasons.

Bollards being excavated outside Atlantic Terminal, July 2012 (photo by Andrea Bernstein)

To be sure, the Atlantic Terminal has been a terror target in the past.

But the huge granite slabs were  more imposing than simpler steel bollards outside the more heavily trafficked Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal.

Bollards outside Grand Central (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Atlantic Terminal bollards also blocked pedestrian flow to and from the Terminal, which houses the LIRR and nine subway lines.

This, it was pointed out, presented a potential problem when huge crowds of people start to flow through the plaza for events at the next-door Barclays Center, set to open next month.

The MTA also came to the conclusion that the bollards were a bad idea.  It decided to replace them with a smaller, sleeker model, like the ones at Grand Central.

About a week ago, the authority began to take the bollards down, bringing the total cost of the installation and removal to $1.35 million.

I might never have unearthed this information had I not passed by the Atlantic Terminal Monday morning, trying to grab a quick photo so you all could see how the plaza is coming along.  (I also regretted not having the headline "Never Mind The Bollards," in our initial post, and was hoping for a second chance.)

The construction workers had other ideas. A piece of cardboard came down in front of my iPhone. I would not be photographing the site because it was "a Homeland Security project."

Like, um, the World Trade Center site, which must be one of the most photographed construction sites on earth?

I was told (though maybe in not-so-polite language), that this decision had been made by MTA police. I was offered the opportunity to have them tell me in person.

That's an opportunity I declined.

But I did later email the MTA's chief spokesperson, Adam Lisberg, for an explanation. And, while he was at it, could he please tell me how much the MTA had spent on the bollards in the first place?

Lisberg, a former New York Daily News journalist, told me quite clearly that anyone could photograph the site and that if I should be obstructed again I should stand my ground so I could do my job. In so many words.

So the next day, I went back.

I was greeted no more happily than I was the day before. This time half a dozen construction workers, and three MTA police, came to make the point. But, per Adam "L-i-s-b-e-r-g, the MTA communications chief," I would not leave.

Did I have documentation? Well, I had the constitution of the United States of America. Had they seen the Bill of Rights? Also, my press pass -- though that's not required to photograph a public plaza.

Besides, the construction fence was mostly down so, unlike the day before, I couldn't physically be blocked.

So I took my photos.  (And, unbeknownst to me, was photographed doing so by my colleague, Emily Botein.)

Andrea Bernstein photographing Atlantic Terminal (photo by Emily Botein)

Initially, the MTA re-issued a statement (which TN ran last week) citing the total cost of the Atlantic Terminal renovation -- $108 million -- and the cost of the new security project, which came in at $3.486 million.

Today, the authority furnished further details.

The total cost of building the 15 granite bollards: $1.2 million.

The total cost of demolishing them and removing the granite: $150,000.

A $1.35 million mistake.


*To be sure, service is paid for from the operating budget, while the capital budget pays for everything from bollards to the Second Avenue subway.  So you'll hear that comparing one to the other is like comparing your lunch money to the loan you took out to redo your kitchen.   But at the end of the day, it all ultimately falls to straphangers or taxpayers to foot the bill.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA: 60 Smaller Bollards to Replace Atlantic Terminal "Coffins"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The NY MTA will replace the 15 huge granite blocks that protected its Atlantic Terminal with 60 smaller bollards.

According to the agency:

“The MTA and the Long Island Rail Road listened to concerns from local elected officials and community leaders who felt the stone bollards were intrusive and out-of-scale at their current size. As part of the original design, there were 15 granite bollards surrounding the new $108 million Atlantic Terminal Pavillion when it opened in January 2010. In consultation with the MTA Police and NYPD, we decided to replace the granite bollards with 60 smaller steel bollards that still meet the security requirements spelled out by the NYPD for public buildings of this kind. The new bollards will be 36 inches in height and approximately 12 inches wide. They will be placed around the perimeter of Atlantic Terminal approximately 4 feet apart. The removal of the old bollards and the installation of the new bollards is part of [a] comprehensive perimeter security project being undertaken by MTA Capital Construction through a grant from the federal government. On April 12, a contract for the project was awarded to Adtec Enterprises of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., after the company submitted the winning low bid of $3.486 million. The overall project will take one year to complete, but most of the bollards have already been removed and installation of the steel replacements is expected to get underway soon.”

TN reported Tuesday that workers were outside Atlantic Terminal, excavating the granite bollards. (Click here to see pictures.) According to the MTA, the largest granite block was nine feet long by three feet wide by three-and-a-half feet high -- and weighed between 14,000 and 16,000 lbs.

We now know the scale of the new bollards, so we created a model out of two giant post-it notes. Here's a view of our (admittedly unimposing) paper one, which stands waist-high next to a TN reporter:

(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

Here's another comparative view: our model bollard next to a completely unfolded MTA subway map (which is roughly 23" by 32.5"):

(photo by Kate Hinds)

We've asked the MTA whether the new bollards will look like the ones ringing Grand Central Terminal (image below). We'll update when we know more.

(image from Google Street View)


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Transportation Nation

Controversial Atlantic Avenue "Coffins" Now Being Removed in Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

(UPDATED WITH MTA INFORMATION) The imposing concrete bollards surrounding Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal station are coming down.

The so-called "coffins" appeared without warning in 2010, when the new terminal was opened. "More Extreme Than NYPD Counterterror Guidelines" mocked a Streetsblog headline. Urban planners decried the bollards as pedestrian-unfriendly and a backwards model of city design.

The Long Island Rail Road and nine subway lines stop at the Atlantic Terminal station, which will serve the new Barclays Center arena when it opens in September.

New York's MTA cited unspecified security concerns in installing what the Brooklyn Paper called "sarcophagi."

Workers there say the bollards will be replaced with "something else."

A spokesman for the MTA said that "something else" is new, smaller bollards. The work is part of a $3.5 million security upgrade at the subway terminal.

Deconstruction: bollards being removed in downtown Brooklyn (photo by Andrea Bernstein)


(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

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The Takeaway

Was the Colorado Shooter a Terrorist?

Monday, July 23, 2012

In the days since the Colorado shootings, commentators and politicians have started to liken James Holmes, the suspected killer, to a terrorist. So what makes a domestic terrorist?

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The Takeaway

Does America Support Terror?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A bomb blast kills government officials, including the brother-in-law of the President. Was it a terrorist attack, or a wartime victory? The answer probably depends on where you live and who you’re rooting for.  


The Takeaway

New Report: US Has Established Intelligence Operations Across Africa

Thursday, June 14, 2012

According to a new report in the Washington Post, Ouagadougou Burkina Faso is the hub of a vast secret war of surveillance and assassinations targeting al-Qaeda and other terror organizations in Africa and around the world. It is a covert operation that seems to be the first initiative of global strategy and tactics focused on the failed states around the world, a way of preempting and denying terrorists access and safe haven in these lawless chaotic places.


On The Media

Secrets That Aren't Secret

Friday, June 08, 2012

The White House announced this week that they’d killed Al Qaeda’s number 2 operative, but, following standard operating procedure, would not tell reporters how they'd killed him. Why? Because they killed him by targeted drone strike, a program which is widely known about but still technically classified. The New York Times reporter Scott Shane tells Bob that the administration's coy attitude towards classified secrets is stifling public debate.

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The Takeaway

Presidential Leadership and the Origins of the "Kill List"

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The "Kill List": It's the President's shifting roster of names of high-profile targets. If you're a suspected terrorist, it could be the last list your name appears on before the US government ends your life. The Obama administration appears to be the first presidential administration to keep such a list.  What does the president's hands-on role in monitoring this list says about his leadership style?

Comments [5]

The Takeaway

Pakistani Who Helped CIA Hunt Bin Laden Sentenced For Treason

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA hunt down Osama Bin Laden, was convicted of treason yesterday by a tribal court in northwestern Pakistan. He has been sentenced to 33 years in prison. Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani government official, and P.J. Crowley, former Department of State spokesperson, discuss how the sentencing is sure to add new strains to an already troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Comments [3]

The Takeaway

State Department Targets Al Qaeda Website in Yemen

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Last night in Florida, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. specialists hacked into websites run by Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. The hackers were able to change online ads that boasted about killing Americans into advertisements that underscored the deaths of Muslim civilians in Al Qaeda terror attacks. We're joined by Jamie Doran, a producer for Frontline who worked on the new documentary "Al Qaeda in Yemen."

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The Takeaway

The Future of Yemen

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At least 96 people were killed in the capital city of Yemen yesterday, after a suicide bomber disguised as a Yemeni soldier blew himself up during a military parade rehearsal near the presidential palace in Sana. The bombing was the country's most devastating terrorism attack in years, and the Al Qaeda affiliate that operates within the state has claimed responsibility for the mass killings. Yemen expert Charles Schmitz discusses the country's future.


The Takeaway

Lockerbie Bomber Dies at 60

Monday, May 21, 2012

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans, died yesterday in Libya, at the age of 60. His death comes nearly three years after Scotland released him from prison on humanitarian grounds, and eleven years his conviction for planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988. John Ashton is Megrahi’s biographer and the author of "Megrahi: You Are My Jury," and Eileen Monetti's 20-year-old son Rick was returning from an academic semester abroad on Pan Am 103.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

KSM Terror Trial

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, discusses the start of the Guantanamo terror trial and the revelation that a top Al-Qaeda operative was a CIA double-agent.

Comments [11]

The Takeaway

Double-Agent Thwarted Al Qaeda Suicide Bombing Plot

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

There’s a new twist in the developing story of a thwarted terrorist plot orchestrated by Al Qaeda in Yemen. The would-be suicide bomber tasked with blowing up a United States-bound airliner was actually a double agent. Scott Shane, national security correspondent for The New York Times, explains.

Comments [2]

The Takeaway

Foiled Terrorist Plot Reveals Disturbing New Garment Bomb

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The headlines this morning are all about underwear bombs but the man behind this terrorist device, Ibrahim al Asiri, the bomb maker for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may be the bigger story. The FBI in Washington is picking apart a bomb it says was central to a foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up an airliner bound for the United States. The garment bomb triggered by chemicals alone, no metal parts, and was found in Yemen where Ibrahim Al Asiri and al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula are based. Joining us now is Tom Finn, correspondent for Reuters based in Sana, Yemen.


The Takeaway

'Manhunt' Examines the Decade-Long Search for Bin Laden

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Just over 15 years ago, Peter Arnett and Peter Bergen traveled to an isolated mud hut in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan to interview the most notorious terrorist of all time, Osama bin Laden. Bergen, who produced the interview for CNN, has marked the anniversary with a new book that examines the ten-year search for the world’s most wanted man. Peter Bergen is the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden, from Nine-Eleven to Abbottabad."

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