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New York Daily News June 3, 2006

N.Y.ers a-maized by corn protection

Honcho sez fields more vulnerable than N.Y.C.

By James Gordon Meek

WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security bureaucrat who shortchanged New Yorkers' safety by $80 million implied yesterday that guarding a Nebraska cornfield from an Al Qaeda attack is the same as putting a cop with a gun on the Brooklyn Bridge.

"When you are protecting agriculture in the Midwest, you are protecting the citizens of New York City," Assistant Secretary Tracy Henke told C-Span's "Washington Journal."

Henke - a political appointee in charge of doling out $1.7 billion in security grants to cities under the highest threat of attack - cut funds to New York City and Washington by 40%, even though both are considered Al Qaeda's top terror targets.

Henke's claim that food stocks "risk" terror attack echoed comments this week by her boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He had said New Yorkers are safer when "we protect agriculture in Wisconsin that is providing the food that New Yorkers eat."

But Mayor Bloomberg told WABC Radio yesterday, "We certainly eat food from other states, but they are kind of hard for terrorists to go after, I would argue."

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington also scoffed at the insinuation that Al Qaeda is targeting cornfields and grain stores.

"The whole DHS agro-terrorism theory doesn't hold," the official said. Asked if he had ever heard of a credible terrorist threat to the food supply, the official laughingly replied, "Never."

John Pike, a homeland security expert at GlobalSecurity.org, said Al Qaeda is purely interested in made-for-TV carnage.

"DHS may think that Wyoming is a more lucrative target than New York or Washington, but Al Qaeda seems to have a different view of the matter," Pike said. "Al Qaeda doesn't have a track record of attacking the food system."

And while Homeland Security claims New York doesn't have any national icons, terrorists clearly feel differently. A chilling image pulled yesterday from an Islamic extremist Web site by the NYPD Intelligence Division shows the Statue of Liberty with a bomb-damaged, blood-splattered face under a banner reading "Today and Tomorrow America."

Another image from an extremist site shows a mushroom cloud obscuring the New York City skyline. The Arabic caption says: "The first picture of New York City of a nuclear explosion, the total death is 2,500,000 people. Al Qaeda had delivered the ultimate promise."

Henke is a Republican political operative and protégé of former Attorney General John Ashcroft with no background in military or intelligence. She previously worked for two GOP senators from her home state of Missouri, which collected 25% more security cash from her office this year.

"It is impossible to tie those two \[facts\] together. Absolutely impossible," Henke said.

With Michael Saul and Alison Gendar in New York

Copyright 2006, Daily News, L.P.