Terror Underground: Eight Years After 9/11, New York Subways Vulnerable to Attack, Experts Say

Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to boost safety systems tied up in court.

ByBRIAN ROSS, VIC WALTER and MEGAN CHUCHMACH Brian Ross Investigative Unit
September 10, 2009, 8:14 PM

Sept. 11, 2009— -- Despite hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to create a state-of-the-art surveillance system for New York City's subway system, the monitoring technology is still not in place and experts say the city's underground transportation tunnels remain a leading and unnecessarily vulnerable target to terrorism eight years after the 9/11 attacks devastated the country.

"Terrorists, if they did surveillance, would know that security hasn't really improved since 9/11," said former national security officer Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant.

After the terrorist attacks, a classified report for NYC's Metropolitan Transit Authority revealed that an explosion and a breach in the many subway tunnels that run under Manhattan's East River could shut down the tunnels for years, which former MTA security official Nick Casale said could result in the loss of thousands of lives.

"The water of the East River would start pouring in and it would not stop," Casale said. "And at some point we would have a catastrophic collapse…the report estimated 19,000 casualties."

Four years ago, the MTA awarded a more than $200 million contract to Lockheed Martin to create a surveillance system to monitor NYC's subway systems. The technology was supposed to be in operation last year, but it remains unimplemented as Lockheed Martin and the MTA are currently suing each other over the contract and all work has stopped.

The MTA has "already paid $250 to $300 million to Lockheed and the only thing they have to show for it is litigation, being in court," said NYC Transportation Committee Chairman John Liu.

While Washington, Atlanta and other major cities have installed similar surveillance systems, New York police have had to add extra officers to patrol its subways as it awaits its own high tech system - a system that MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp said would alert authorities so that "hopefully we can respond and hopefully prevent an attack from happening."

The Blame Game

The MTA and Lockheed Martin blame eachother for the failure to finish the system - Lockheed says its workers couldn't get access to the underwater tunnels, and the transit authority says Lockheed's system didn't work.

New York City Deputy Mayor Ed Skylar said the situation is alarming.

"We are very concerned with the problems the MTA has had implementing the security plan they outlined," Skylar said.

But when questioned by ABC News, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano seemed unaware of the problem.

"I ride the subway, the mayor rides the subway, the vice mayor rides the subway," Napolitano said. "So the overall safety of the subways is safe. Now are we there yet on technology? That I can't comment to." She said she was not aware of the ongoing lawsuit between Lockheed Martin and the MTA.

Click here to watch Brian Ross with Napolitano.

That, Clarke said, is troublesome.

"I think the Secretary of Homeland Security should have on her desk a list of the high priority projects that are in trouble," Clarke said, "and this would be up, if not on the top, of that list."

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