Saturday, February 8, 2014
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY
BEING DRAGGED THROUGH THE MUD BY POLITICAL SCANDALS
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE AS SEEN FROM
TAGS: PORT AUTHORITY NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY, PA FACILITIES,
SURFACE AND RAIL TRANSPORT, HUDSON RIVER CROSSINGS,
FREIGHT TERMINAL, DOCKS, PIERS, PA POLICE DEPARTMENT,
PAPD 9-11-2001, LaGUARDIA, JFK AND NEWARK/LIBERTY AIRPORTS,
PATH TRAINS, CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, WTC, NYC HARBOR
(Saturday February 8, 2014 JFK Airport, Queens, NYC) Since its formation in 1921 the Port Authority of New York / New Jersey (PANYNJ) has been a highly regarded and much emulated bi-state alliance. When the original charter was crafted, those involved in that process could never have envisioned what it would become. The Port Authority as locals refer to it daily fulfills a mission that has only grown in scale and scope in the post 9-11-2001 era. Much of this regions critical infrastructure from the three local airports to Hudson River crossings, road and rail transportation as well as properties on both sides of the Hudson they own and operate, the Port Authority is a vital element assuring the safety and security of their facilities while moving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and commuters from the NYC Metropolitan Area.
Until very recently the PANYNJ was seen as a non-political Agency left alone to carry out their mission. Recent headlines regarding the alleged malfeasance of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his high ranking appointees to the PA have begun to tarnish an impressive reputation of efficiency, effectiveness and competence. Some of the most heavily travelled bridges and busy airports are often stricken by unforeseen events such as heavy surface congestion, power interruptions and other delay inducing events and those affected by such delays and inconvenience will complain to no end. However, these very same people are dependent on the Port Authority and, when the systems are functioning without any glitches are able to take the PA for granted. Given the density of the NYC Metro Area population, aging infrastructure in New Jersey and New York, the PA keeps the region moving by the dedication and expertise of their rank and file employees from their own Police Department to the legions of specialists charged with insuring the whole interconnected regional network runs as trouble-free as possible.
AN UNWITTING PAWN
One would be hard pressed to find incidents of corruption, political wrangling or run of the mill chicanery in the Port Authority. Actually the fact that in its almost 90 year history it has remained among the brand of political corruption, influence peddling, extortion and greed that has come to define the political landscape of this region, is in itself remarkable. To see the PA now to have been used as a pawn in the most amateurish spiteful manner as recent media reports suggest, is an insult to all who work or have every worked for the PA. It appears that Governor Christie installed a small cadre of loyalists into the hierarchy of the PA and used them to carry out some sort of retribution against Mark Sokolich, the Mayor of Fort Lee NJ, the host city of the western terminus of the George Washington Bridge. If these allegations are proven to be true everyone involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
AIR FORCE ONE AT A FAMILIAR DESTINATION – NEW YORK CITY
LANDMARKS AND ICONS
Some of this region’s most critical infrastructure and iconic sites fall under the control of the PA. From the majestic George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, Outerbridge Crossing, The PATH trains, as well as Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Airports, such locales are almost as familiar to the millions who come to visit here annually as they are to those of us who live and work here. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built, owned and operated by the PA under the vision of Austin Tobin who ran the PA for almost 30 years. There were political agendas to be addressed, no politicians’ egos to stroke; Director Tobin saw the value in each and every project he presided over not just as the head of the PA but also as an accomplished engineer. It was during his long, successful tenure that the Port Authority was planted in the fertile soil that allowed it to flourish unencumbered by petty politics. Some may argue this point as an inaccurate portrayal of the man Tobin and his Agency, the PA but extensive research into the PA yields no stories, rumors, innuendos or suppositions that credibly contest this point.
PORT AUTHORITY BY THE NUMBERS
Operating two bus terminals, one near the upper tip of Manhattan on 178th Street, the other on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, these two locations transport upwards of 70 million people annually. Every work day the PATH Trains move over 29,000communters from Hoboken and Jersey City to the west side of Manhattan. Fleets of ferries that had long plied the Hudson but died away until the late 1990’s once again are plentiful from New Jersey and Brooklyn into lower Manhattan. Between JFK, LaGuardia and Newark/Liberty airports over 60 million travelers pass through these PA operated hubs.
Living in the NYC Metro Area sometimes it is easy to forget that NYC became what it is today due to geography. From Colonial days the value of NYC as a seaport, as a major deep water maritime harbor capable of handling heavy volume of immigrants and freight, made our waterfront the premier shipping destination between the fledgling United States and the rest of the world. After the introduction of containerized freight in the late seventies many saw the days of New York’s waterfront as over. But, ever adaptable to change the PA cast their gaze and attention to the rapidly increasing freight brought to dock at the Port Elizabeth/Port Newark complex. Today that complex is one of the busiest in the country. The Port Authority is also responsible for the safety and security of the piers in Red Hook Brooklyn and adjacent docks.
One of the more obscure but important numbers, a figure that illustrates the enormous domain of which the PA is responsible is that the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) is the 26th largest Police Force in the United States. Think about that for a moment. Hundreds of cities and urban centers have smaller Police Forces than does the Port Authority. Given that the PAPD does not operate within the well-defined borders of a jurisdiction, this fact is impressive. The PAPD are, in a sense, far flung being that they are deployed at facilities all across the NYC Metro Area. Their tasks have only gotten more difficult since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. On that day the PAPD lost 37 of her Members of Service (MOS), the single most lethal day in their history is another sad chapter in the stories of courage, duty and sacrifice exhibited so valiantly by all the Agencies involved as First Responders.
The initial claim at the beginning of Governor Christie’s now scandal ridden administration was a mysteriously authorized land closure of designated roads leading from Fort Lee onto the George Washington Bridge (GWB).The GWB is the most heavily travelled bridge in the United States and is the only link directly from Interstate 80 and 95 onto the Cross Bronx Expressway which links to the network of highways going north to New England. Sure, commuters in this area are more than familiar with traffic congestion and jams but the four days of lane closures in question affected far more than frustrated motorists; school buses and emergency response Agencies had their movements and response time impacted by the enormous gridlock that had, in effect, made Fort Lee a parking lot. If for no other reason than this the various legislative committees and federal prosecutor investigated this sloppy episode need to find answers. If Chris Christie did have ANYTHING to do with the lane closures he should either resign a la Sarah Palin and take a job with the other barking seals at FOX News or gut it out and wait to be impeached. Either way his once notable political potential is gone; the luster of a “straight-shooting” Republican Governor from a Democratic state has been sullied beyond repair.
EVERY OTHER DAY
Christie’s most highly placed appointees at the PA as well as his Chief odd Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt. Governor and about 20 others within Christie’s innermost circle have been subpoenaed, resigned orr have been unceremoniously fired. At some point the truth should emerge given the intense focus on the local and national media. However, no matter when and where fault is laid, regardless of which political hack or “no show” appointee is left holding the bag; the one truth that ought to be recognized is that this entire sordid tale is not about the PA. It is about politicians and pettiness, about hubris, power and corruption. It should not in any way reflect on the thousands of hard working men and women of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2014 © All Rights Reserved
Thursday, February 6, 2014
PUTIN ON THE DEFENSIVE
Construction work continues outside the
Gorki Plaza East hotel in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on Sunday, Feb. 2
(Photo courtesy of AP)
TAGS: SOCHI WINTER OLYMPICS, OLYMPIC SECURITY, SOCHI NOT READY
FOR ATHLETES, MEDIA AND VISITORS, HORRENDOUS ACCOMMODATIONS,
OFF-SITE EVENT VENUES, RUSSIAN SECURITY CAPABILITY IN QUESTION,
WILD DOGS, CONSTRUCTION STILL UNDERWAY,
CIA, DIA, FBI, SCOTLAND YARD, INTERPOL, MOSSAD,
MI-15, US COOPERATION ON SECURITY
(Thursday February 6, 2014, Akhshtyr, Russia) This remote village of 70 resident 45 miles southeast of the site of the Winter Olympics Sochi, is just one of many places the benefits, if any, of hosting the Olympics may ultimately bring to this part of Russia. It’s once pristine woodlands and clean wells that supplied the citizens with clear, uncontaminated drinking water, are no longer. This area was used as a large scale waste site where contractors building the Olympic Village, infrastructure, hotels and shops dumped all manner of construction waste with impunity. In many ways the fact that the Olympics are being held just up the road from here has been an unmitigated disaster.
But no one will visit to see the environmental carnage that has left this small village in ruins with lives and livelihoods far worse for the wear. Making the approximately 50 minute drive from here to Sochi one cannot help but to be struck by the ravages to the landscape along the way and the sense that for all of the “newness” of the highways, byways and buildings there is a fundamental underlying poverty, almost a feeling of desolation pervasive throughout the area.
Sochi itself and the Olympic Village in particular for all intents and purposes should have “still under construction” signs posted at every intersection, in front of every hotel and along the various pathways connecting the various event venues. For each small group of athletes and journalist seen walking the barely set concrete walkways there remain small cluster of construction workers, masons, tradesmen and laborers of every kind still hard at work even after having seven years to complete these projects. The allegations contending that wide spread corruption, near slave labor-type conditions, bribery and horrendous working and living conditions for the army of laborers most of whom were foreign workers, would be a bit less believable if not for the conditions greeting the arriving guests today.
From the late 1940’s until the breakup of the toppling of the once formidable Iron Curtain, the USSR was considered our most threatening adversary; the only other global entity that had “Super Power” status on par with us. It was only after the demise of the USSR that we realized we had been preparing to defend and fight against what was a paper tiger. We, as in our multifaceted intelligence gathering and analysis agencies, had grossly overestimated the threat. The USSR spent all their national treasure on a nuclear and conventional military leaving the majority of their populace barely eking out a substance existence. They had so heavily invested in their military-industrial complex that the population lived under the oppressive hand of totalitarianism leaving them hungry, cold, depressed and severely weakened. There was no small amount of irony after the collapse of the USSR when we learned we had been recklessly, unnecessarily spending on our own military believing we had to stay in front of the USSR in the “arms race”.
What is becoming apparent today is that post-USSR Russia has many of the same endemic ailments that cut the USSR off at the knees. Despite the bravado of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, his country is now being exposed by the international audience and media as a dysfunctional rusting remnant of sovereignty incapable of providing some of the most basic needs to their citizens. Arriving in Sochi and witnessing the just how unprepared this place is on the very night of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, one can only imagine just how bleak conditions must be across the immense sprawl of Russia and its former States many of which are actively engaged in terrorist activity against Putin’s Russia.
In advance of the full contingents of athletes arrivals journalists from around the world began arriving in Sochi over the past four days. From their initial reporting Sochi has given them the impression of a claptrap shanty town bedeviled by all sorts of problems ranging from minor inconveniences to profoundly inadequate accommodations. Everything from the poor quality of the drinking water to incomplete lodging conditions, the international press has been very underwhelmed if not concerned. With concerns about security having been prominent from the first day after Sochi was selected as the host site for these 2014 Winter Olympics right up to this present day, securing the Olympic Village, sporting venues and hotels, signs of vulnerability remain obvious and have not escaped the eyes of the media and United States security officials. “If there is still this much chaos here as far as accommodations are concerned, you can only imagine our heightened level of attention” commented one US State Department security officer. Security Services in many countries sending athletes to participate in the Games have also raised similar concerns.
Naturally, given the current state of the world and geopolitics especially in Russia regarding their relations with some of their former States, The Caucuses, Chechnya, Georgia and from minority ethnics within her own borders, the threat of terrorism is cause for urgent concern, vigilance and proactive counter-terrorism initiatives. Putin has assigned over 40,000 members of his “national police” to Sochi and, as a backup force has stationed units from the Russian military in the surrounding region. However, given the chaos evident in Sochi, establishing and defending security perimeters around each venue and the Olympic Village itself remains a work in progress. This is an ominous sign for many tasked with providing security for the United States Olympic Team, their families, supporters and fans.
The presence of Russian police and military personnel intended to impart the sense of safety to these Olympic Games in some ways has proven inadequate. Given the just below the surface of instability that plagues this country, many experts have voiced their trepidation as to the composition of the security forces; in the past some of the most ‘successful’ terrorist strikes in Russia and The Caucuses have had perpetrators using official uniforms as disguises to breech established security measures undetected. Given the unrest in Russia and the out in the open hostility towards Russia from regional factions and forces, it is difficult to be certain that the rank and file of the police and military units assigned to Sochi are in fact loyal, reliable troops. All it would take for a small dedicated terrorist cell to inflict massive harm on The Games is to have the cooperation of insiders making whatever their attack might be enabled and perpetrated aided by those in a position to permit and “inside job”. There is no lack of such motivated cells operating within the borders of Russia and within The Caucuses and former Soviet States.
In the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain it did not take long for the former Soviet states to revert back to their historical hostile postures where old enmities that had been stifled by the autocratic rule of the central government where once again free to grow. Before long some age old bad blood lead to open warfare. Croats fought Serbians as Yugoslavia melted bloodily away into yesterday and people from Estonia to the Ukraine demanded autonomy and were more than ready to fight for their cause. The terrorism that is in evidence today represents the pent up frustration by ethnic and regional minorities to finally free themselves of the shackles that were used with impunity by the USSR and have found new life under Putin’s tenure.
GOING TO THE DOGS
Russia like most of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses has a nasty stray dog problem. Dog packs roam the street of small hamlets and big cities foraging for food and often posing a threat to local populations. This problem has certainly not gone unnoticed by the international press corps. The presence of wild dog packs in and of itself is not particularly ominous but it is an apt metaphor for Russia. The dogs represent a degree of lack of control, a failure by government on all levels be it town, region or national to muster the resources to eliminate this problem. It is easy enough to hire “pest control” companies to shoot and dispose of as many dogs as they can in and around Sochi; it is an entirely different battle to improve the quality of life for the Russian people and those populations of the former Soviet Union.
Aside from the dogs roaming the streets of Sochi, and, as one journalist reported, a dog in his hotel room, the conditions in the newly constructed hotels and media center range from squalid to deplorable. In many cases construction continues even as guests are checking in. From incomplete walls to undrinkable water what Putin had envisioned as the golden opportunity to showcase his Russia to the world has been an abject failure. Given these troubling facts one is left to wonder about the robustness of the security measures in and around the Olympic Village, Sochi and sporting event venues beyond the confines of Sochi.
A WORLD WIDE AUDIENCE
Vladimir Putin is likely not getting much sleep these days. The initial reviews being filed by the media and visitors alike paint a disturbing picture of the facilities constructed for the Games. After all, this was intended to be a “coming out party” of a sort for the post-Soviet era Russia. Putin gambled big to get these Games to be hosted in his country and what the world is seeing and hearing about on the day of the Opening Ceremonies falls embarrassingly short of Putin’s grand vision.
It is no wonder that Putin has put a halt towards Russia’s re-engagement with the world, particularly with the West. He has established import and export arrangements with many countries the United States does not view as allies and some are openly hostile to America and American interests. It seems that every opportunity that presented itself where Putin could poke the United States in the eye he has done so gladly. There are some scenarios when Putin acted in such a way thinking he was hurting America even when it did not serve his best interest of that off his long suffering people.
For the next two weeks the eyes of the world will be focused on the Sochi Games. The global community will watch the various events with a certain amount of national pride as their athletes perform while simultaneously training a watchful eye on the success of failures of the myriad security measures implemented to keep the athletes and visitors within a protective bubble. The Olympics, as several intelligence agencies from our CIA and Department of State Security Service, Britain’s MI-15 and Scotland Yard, Israel’s Mossad and Interpol are most certainly extremely valued targets of Al Qaeda and all other terrorist groups with a global reach. The wild card is also a distinct possibility as in an attack similar to that which struck the 2013 Boston Marathon. Actually, Putin himself has cited that incident as a specific kind of threat his security forces are attuned to intercept.
Hopefully when the Games conclude the world can look back and see an Olympiad conducted without any nefarious activity. The challenges as they stand today are daunting and cannot be overestimated. Sochi is on the fringe of a bad neighborhood; a neighborhood where terror and lawlessness are often the stock in trade. The economic weakness of Russia with over 80% of her people living at or below the poverty line makes the rank and file police, security and military personnel assigned to Sochi susceptible to bribery. All it takes is to recruit one hungry disgruntled policeman to compromise the security of the entire endeavor.
Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2014 © All Rights Reserved