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Daily News July 22, 2005

MTA hit for token anti-terror efforts

By Jonathan Lemire and Pete Donohue

Despite the increased police presence in the transit system, it is still shockingly easy for a would-be terrorist to sneak into secure areas, critics said yesterday.

Weaknesses in the counterterrorism shield have been spotted by straphangers, as well as watchdogs who have tested specific safeguards - and searching passengers' bags doesn't address those weak spots.

Assemblywoman Adele Cohen (D-Brooklyn) and transit union representatives twice walked undetected earlier this week into the Coney Island subway yard, including once from a platform, pushing through an unsecured security gate.

"Not enough is being done to secure the system," Cohen said. "If I could slip in, anyone could," the 63-year-old grandmother added.

Two weeks earlier, a Daily News reporter witnessed a man with a backpack walk onto the tracks of a subway platform in Penn Station and pour liquid onto the ground. He then lingered at the end of the platform and rummaged through his bag without being stopped by police.

In February 2004, a deranged man walked through a subway tunnel in Greenwich Village and tossed debris at the electrified third rail before being stopped. He sparked several explosions, forcing the evacuation of 1,000 passengers.

"Random baggage checks provide the appearance of increased attention, but the reality is that full security is difficult to achieve," said Robert Puentes, a Brookings Institute fellow. "The hope is that it acts as a deterrent and wards off the attack."

Since 9/11, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has spent more than $200 million to ramp up transit security. The MTA plans to spend another $400 million this year.

But Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) said the authority has moved too slowly. He noted that sensors to detect and alert cops to intruders in underwater tunnels has not yet been installed. "It's part of the MTA dragging its feet," he said.

Security expert John Pike agreed, saying the safeguards in place can only provide a "limited measure" of security.

MTA spokesman Tom Kelly defended the pace of the security improvements, saying the authority has been slowed because of the difficulty of retrofitting modern technology to the century-old subway system.

As for Cohen's security breech in Coney Island, a Transit Authority spokesman said the railyard is undergoing major security upgrades.


Copyright 2005, Daily News, L.P.