Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tower warning in '04

New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Tower warning in '04
Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

Months before the Freedom Tower was waylaid by seemingly last-minute security concerns, top NYPD brass had warned the Port Authority that there were "risks and vulnerabilities" in the skyscraper's design.

Official NYPD correspondence makes it clear that police officials were troubled by the proposed Freedom Tower as early as last summer.

In a letter dated Aug. 31, 2004, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan urged PA officials to discuss "these security and design issues before this construction proceeds any further."

In a followup letter dated Oct.1, Sheehan expressed dismay that the PA had postponed a meeting to assess potential "risks and vulnerabilities," noting that it would be easier to change things in "the design and construction phases, rather than making modifications after the fact."

Sheehan's letters to Joseph Seymour, then the executive director of the Port Authority, have taken on new significance two weeks after a litany of NYPD concerns finally sent plans for the tower back to the drawing board.

As a result, a new design won't be unveiled until the end of June, when Gov. Pataki also plans to announce what he called "an aggressive schedule for construction."

The letters offer a glimpse of bureaucratic foot-dragging - all the more striking given the fingerpointing that followed the decision early this month to come up with a redesign.

In a high-profile speech last Thursday, Pataki referred to "the new security standards we received just a few short weeks ago" - a remark that police officials considered an unfair swipe at them and Sheehan.

Sheehan served on the national security staffs of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and spent two years as ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the State Department.

As spelled out in the 9/11 commission report, Sheehan was among those who pushed for - and got Clinton to issue - an executive order in 1999 that labeled the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan and was cozy with Osama Bin Laden, a state sponsor of terrorism.

The PA, which owns the World Trade Center site, yesterday had no official reaction to Sheehan's letters.

However, officials of the bistate agency have said Sheehan's Aug. 31 letter never reached them and the meeting he mentioned was postponed because it fell on Rosh Hashanah.

Another possible complication was that Seymour had announced his decision to step down as the Port Authority's executive director on Aug. 4; he stayed on until Oct. 23, and was succeeded four days later by Kenneth Ringler.

PA officials also have insisted the NYPD did not specify its concerns, such as its worry that the Freedom Tower would rise a mere 25 feet from West St., until early last month.

Police officials, however, dispute that claim, saying their concerns had been expressed in other meetings.

The redesign will now incorporate what Pataki called "NYPD security concerns."

Sources said this means the setback from West St. will be more than doubled; glass in the tower will be thicker, and it will be built to withstand a blast of 10,000 pounds of explosives instead of 500 pounds.

Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that the tower will be as fortified as any U.S. embassy.

"We are going to build a building to embassy construction standards, which nobody has ever built [into] a building this high before," Bloomberg said.

"You have got to do it and do it right - and that's a lot more important than doing it quickly," the mayor added.

With David Saltonstall

Aug. 31, 2004, letter from NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan to Port Authority Executive Director Joseph Seymour:
"Construction ... is proceeding quickly, with the cornerstone having been laid and ironwork underway. I believe it is important, therefore, that we expedite our discussions of these security and design issues before this construction proceeds any further."

Oct. 1, 2004, letter from Sheehan to Seymour, with copies to Freedom Tower developer Larry Silverstein and others:
"In the current environment of global terrorism, the mission [of the NYPD] entails much more than simply responding to events after they have occurred. ... The Freedom Tower represents a favorable scenario in which the vulnerabilities can be addressed in the design and construction phases, rather than making modifications after the fact. ... I urge you to enter into a dialogue with the New York Police Department as soon as possible."

Michael Sheehan at a glance

* Named NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism in 2003.
* Core responsibilities include prevention of terrorism in the city, and training and equipping all uniformed members of the NYPD for counterterrorism duties.
* Before his appointment, Sheehan was assistant secretary general in the peacekeeping operations department at the United Nations.
* Previously was U.S. ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the State Department.
* Served on national security staff in the administrations of President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton.
* Retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1997.
* 1977 West Point graduate, with subsequent master's degrees from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Did Army stints in Panama, Korea and as a counterinsurgency adviser in El Salvador.