Latest trial changes Sheikh Mohammed debate

BY Aline Reynolds

London loves to co-opt our culture. Examples include food, music and of course television. Now, the tide has turned and we’re taking a page from their book when it comes to securing our streets.

The New York Police Department is installing security cameras around Downtown as part of a Lower Manhattan initiative to catch signs of terrorism.

Nearly half of the 1,300 cameras have been scattered from Canal Street to Battery Park, river-to-river, outside of financial institutions, government agencies and other noteworthy buildings. The 1.7-million-square-foot area is deemed to be the primary target of overseas terrorists in New York City, according to Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.

“Many terrorist plots against New York City involved targets in Lower Manhattan, including two successful attacks on the World Trade Center and plots against the World Trade Center retaining wall, the [Port Authority Trans-Hudson service], the New York Stock Exchange, and the Brooklyn Bridge,” Browne said.

Many of the cameras monitoring the government agencies and financial institutions were already in place — the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative team connected them to its center at 55 Broadway. “It was a matter of getting their feeds and connecting them with the software that allows us to be alert to things rather than having people watch the cameras all the time,” Browne explained.

The devices will be programmed to automatically alert a police officer, for example, if a package is left untended for more than 30 seconds, or if a camera catches a vehicle heading in the wrong direction on a street. Browne noted that license plate readers and radiation detection equipment are also hooked up to the center.

The L.M.S.I. is modeled after London’s “Ring of Steel,” a camera-based security system created in the early 1990s to protect the city’s financial district from bombings by the Irish Republican Army. It is costing the N.Y.P.D. approximately $201 million, 90 percent of which is federally funded, and the rest subsidized by the N.Y.P.D.

The recent installment of the cameras coincides with a heated debate about the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has been held in detention, without charges, since spring 2008 and the location of his trial has yet to be determined.

The trial would require heightened security measures, such as checkpoints, that could total more than $200 million per year, according to various reports. Browne would not confirm this number, however, nor would he comment on the specific role the L.M.S.I. has in implementing these security measures.

Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin and others are pleading with the Obama Administration not to hold the trial at the U.S. Courthouse in Foley Square, a decision that has been tabled for over a year by the Obama administration.

“I urge the administration to use the idea I championed of having a federal court judge preside over a federal, civilian trial at a military installation or other location that would have lower security costs and minimal impact to the surrounding neighborhood,” Menin wrote in a November 12 letter to the president.

New York State Congressman Jerrold Nadler used the recent trial of terrorist Ahmed Ghailani, who partook in the 1998 Embassy bombings in East Africa, as proof that federal civilian trials of this sort do not pose a security or fiscal threat to Lower Manhattan. Ghailani is the first former Guantanamo detainee to have undergone a civilian, rather than military, trial.

“Despite the negative predictions by some, the trial was effective and transparent, with no security problems in the heart of Manhattan,” Nadler said in a statement.

Holder recently said that Mohammed is supposed to receive his court date and location soon. In the meantime, Menin and others are growing increasingly frustrated by the delay. She has proposed alternative location sites, such as the West Point Military Academy and elsewhere, to conduct the trial.

“It’s unacceptable,” Menin said in a phone interview. “There needs to be a decision now to uphold the rule of law.”