Schumer: New FBI Warning About Truck Bombs At High-Profile Nyc Sites Shows Need For Comprehensive Anti-Terror Truck-Bomb Plan
Internal NYPD memo released this week warns of terrorists getting truck licences to use tanker trucks as WMDs such a gas tanker truck went missing in NJ last month
Warning shows need for background checks of all truck drivers, mandated tracking technology, database to monitor hazardous materials traveling by road, and federal funds to pay overtime for NYPD and Port Authority cops now
Armed with FBI information released over the last two weeks indicating terrorists may use truck bombs to attack highprofile targets like the Empire State Building and on the heels of this week's announcement of credible intelligence information pointing to terrorist attacks in the USA this summer US Senator Charles E. Schumer today renewed his push for a comprehensive antiterrorist truckbomb plan.
After 14 months of Schumer's urging, the US Transportation Security Administration finally implemented requirements for background checks for every truck driver carrying hazardous materials including gasoline. Schumer today said the federal government needs to build on this and require background checks of all truck drivers, tracking devices in every truck, a database to monitor hazardous materials traveling by road, and federal funds to pay overtime for NYPD and Port Authority cops now checking all trucks entering NYC.
"If there's one thing that we've learned since 9/11, it's that the terrorists are smart and hit us where we're weak, not where we're strong," Schumer said. "We've strengthened air security, so now they are looking harder at our ports and our roads. We finally require background checks for HAZMAT truck drivers, so now we have to worry even more about regular tractortrailer truck drivers. Closing a gaping security hole in one area doesn't mean we can let up the pressure anywhere else."
On Wednesday, the federal government put 18,000 law enforcement agencies from coast to coast on alert that they have credible, corroborating intelligence indicating Al Qaeda intends to strike again in the United States this summer. And late last week, it was revealed that the FBI had received information that terrorists may use truck bombs to attack highprofile targets like the Empire State Building.
In response, New York Police Department and Port Authority Police personnel have begun to check trucks entering the city via bridges and tunnels. There are approximately 36 million trips by trucks across metropolitan New York bridges and tunnels every year, based on toll receipts from the Port Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and Nassau County Bridge Authority.
An internal NYPD memo released this week also shows that top police officials fear that New York will be hit with another Al Qaeda terror strike. The NYPD memo, originally written to the City's Office of Emergency Management, focuses in particular on the threat from truck bombs. The NYPD memo lists a range of assaults that terrorists either have been "trained" or "directed" to pursue in New York, including acquiring commercial driver's licenses in order to use tanker trucks as improvised Weapons of Mass Destruction. The memo emphasizes that a truck bomb was the "preferred" method for detonating a "large... improvised explosive device."
Schumer noted today that a gasoline tanker truck has been missing from a Pennsauken, New Jersey company since April 8. The refurbished 1996 Fruehauf tanker, with "TK Transport" in large green letters on its side and the New Jersey license plate number T852SC, did not have any liquid in its chromeplated tank when the owners discovered it was gone. The New Jersey State Office of Counterterrorism confirmed to Schumer's office on Friday that after seven weeks of searching, the truck still has not been recovered.
Last year, Iyman Faris, 34, a Pakistaniborn American plotted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris obtained a trucker's license and had cased the bridge but ultimately told his terrorist handlers the "weather was too hot" in New York a reference to the city's tight security preventing him from attacking the bridge.
New York City is especially vulnerable to truck attacks because its main entryways from New Jersey endure a tremendous amount of truck traffic. The George Washington Bridge sees approximately 23,000 trucks a day, the Holland Tunnel is traveled by nearly 2,000, and more than 12,000 trucks pass along the Verrazano each day.
According to the latest data available, the 1997 Census of Interstate Commerce, 28 million tons of hazardous material (HAZMAT) material capable of posing unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce comes from New York State, and 31.5 million tons of HAZMAT enters New York each year. 740,000 HAZMAT shipments travel each day by truck in America and over 2,000 HAZMAT shipments pass through New York City each day.
In the United States, about 50,000 trips are made each day by gasoline tankers, many of which hold as much fuel as a Boeing 757. The trips often end with a latenight delivery to a deserted gas station. Experts say that chemicals present an even greater risk, particularly those like chlorine or cyanide, which can form clouds of deadly fumes. While the nation has completely revamped airline security since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Federal government has put relatively little effort into addressing the terrorist threat from truckbomb attacks. In February, after 14 months of pressure from Schumer, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) finalized rules that require background checks for all truck drivers with HAZMAT designations on their licenses. These checks began in March for firsttime applicants and drivers renewing licences.
The new checks cover gasoline tanker truck drivers but do not include drivers of other tanker trucks, like milk trucks that could easily be filled with gasoline or other highly flammable liquids. And the new HAZMAT background checks do not apply to drivers of traditional tractortrailers who could load their cargo bays with fertilizer and other homemade bomb materials like those the Oklahoma City bombers detonated in a Ryder truck outside the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 in what was then the worst example of domestic terrorism in United States history.
For these reasons, Schumer today wrote to the TSA asking them to implement similar federal background checks for all drivers applying for state commercial truck driver licenses. Like their HAZMAT counterparts, drivers who wish to receive such a license would be required to undergo a background check to ensure that they do not pose a risk. A federal system would relieve states and small trucking firms from the burden of performing background checks themselves, which is something many firms would not be able to afford.
Schumer today also asked the TSA to implement a system of tracking technology for all trucks. Most large trucking companies and almost all truck rental companies now have Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems on their trucks that allow companies to know the location of the trucks in their fleet. But because the majority of trucks on the road are owned (and usually driven) by individual operators, most trucks on the road at any given time do not have GPS systems. If a GPSequipped truck moves off route, the company knows. Schumer asked the TSA to start mandating GPS in all trucks in order to allow authorities to find a truck quickly if intelligence shows a risk exists. GPS systems cost only $75 to $100 per truck and would provide benefit that would greatly outweigh this small cost.
Schumer also asked the TSA to require companies shipping hazardous materials to register trucking plans with the agency. The plans would be similar to flight plans that airplanes need to file. Because all trucks will have GPS under Schumer's plan, it would be easy to ensure that shipments followed the plans they filed. If it turned out that a truck carrying HAZMATs veered off its proscribed course, authorities could easily find the truck and ensure nothing suspicious was happening.
Schumer today also reiterated the importance of reducing the number of trucks passing through New York. Schumer has long pushed for the construction of a CrossHarbor Freight Tunnel across New York Harbor from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Bayonne, New Jersey. The Tunnel, of which US Representative Jerry Nadler has been a very strong proponent, would remove one million trucks from New York roadways and would have a benefittocost ratio of 2.2 to 1, the highest ratio of any major transportation project currently under consideration in New York.
The House version of the massive TEA21 highway bill reauthorization segregates this project into a unique category of "project of national significance" that would help protect funding for it because of its ability to improve the nation's homeland security, and Schumer is fighting for a similar designation for the project in the Senate.
And Schumer said today that he will continue to fight for additional federal funds to pay overtime for NYPD and Port Authority Police Officers who are now checking all trucks entering NYC. Schumer is intensely lobbying the Department of Homeland Security to increase the total amount of homeland security funds for New York, particularly through the highneed area funding pools.
"I believe that we have taken a strong first step in insuring the safety of hazardous materials transportation, but we need to do more. I respectfully urge you to implement these suggestions as quickly as possible," Schumer wrote in his letter to David M. Stone, the Acting Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.