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Funds will be there when technology is, M.T.A. chief says

(The following article by Sewell Chan was posted on the New York Times website on July 12.)

NEW YORK -- The chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority acknowledged yesterday that the agency had been slow to spend more than $600 million budgeted for counterterrorism efforts, but he maintained that a lack of reliable technologies had made it difficult to determine how best to defend the transit network against a potential attack.

"The easy way out would be to spend the money quickly, without a thorough analysis of the cost and benefit," the chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, said in an interview. "The technology for this kind of stuff is still emerging. When stuff is proven, we'll be there. We don't think we should be wasting money on unproven technology."

But Mr. Kalikow, who has rarely spoken publicly about specific attempts the authority has made to better protect the city's subways, buses and bridges, conceded that over the nearly four years since 9/11, some time had been wasted in taking action.

"The answer is probably yes," he said, "but not a critical amount."

The deadly subway and bus attacks in London last week drew renewed attention to transit security in New York City, which has the largest mass transit system in the United States.

Mr. Kalikow, seeming relaxed and confident during a 90-minute interview at his Park Avenue office, expressed skepticism about the sophisticated gadgets that the authority has explored using, like blast-proof carbon sheeting for underwater tunnels, sensors that can detect biological or chemical agents, and devices that use heat, sound or motion to discern the presence of intruders.

He said he would like to use more police officers, bomb-sniffing dogs and closed-circuit television cameras throughout the subway, bus and commuter rail network. "Those things are the only methods that are not suggested with the qualifying phrase, 'if they work,' " he said. "When I hear the phrase 'if they work,' just like the dog's ears go up when he sees and smells the explosives, my ears go up because I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall."

The authority has added some 200 officers to its police force, which protects two commuter railroads as well as Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal. (The New York Police Department is responsible for patrolling the subways.)

Mr. Kalikow said the authority was restricted in using its capital budget, including much of the $600 million it has available, to hire more police officers. "It would be nice if I could spend it on overtime and extra personnel, but I can't," he said.

Yesterday, Mr. Kalikow and other officials provided a fuller accounting of one major component of the agency's planning in the last four years: a long and ultimately fruitless negotiation with the Army over the use of military technologies to fortify tunnels, bridges, train yards and other facilities. The negotiations began in early 2002 and lasted through the end of 2003, when they were abandoned. In recent days, some current and former officials have said that a number of factors sank the negotiations, including the firing of the authority's two top security officials in May 2003 and the expense and complexity of the Army's proposal.

Yesterday, Veronique G. Hakim, a lawyer for M.T.A. Capital Construction, which handles big projects for the authority, said the deal collapsed because the Army was unwilling to submit to the reviews and oversight that the authority normally asserts over contractors.

"That approach would have us relinquish to the Army control of the entire M.T.A. security program," Ms. Hakim said. "That was something we obviously could not agree to."

Mr. Kalikow would say only that the Army's proposal was "not applicable to a system as large as ours and would cause inconvenience to passengers and employees."

Also yesterday, the authority released several letters that revealed the intensity and complexity of its negotiations with the Army.

In one letter, dated Nov. 5, 2002, Gen. Paul J. Kern, who was commander of the Army Matériel Command until he retired in 2004, told Louis R. Anemone, then the authority's security chief, that "protection of the transportation system is fundamental in continuing the economic well-being and the quality of life for the nation."

The authority also sought approval from Congress. On April 9, 2003, the authority's top labor official, Gary J. Dellaverson, told Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, that it was prepared to devote virtually all of its counterterrorism funds, "approximately $600 million," to the "vulnerability mitigation program" developed by the Army. He asked Mr. Holt for legislation that would grant a special exemption from federal policies that bar the Army from receiving money from a nonfederal source.

In May 2003, Mr. Anemone, who had been a high-ranking police commander, was fired, along with his deputy, in an unrelated dispute. His successor, William A. Morange, continued discussions with the Army for several months, according to the correspondence.

"I think Anemone had a vision of how we could work together and it was difficult to implement that vision without him," said Robert Doto, who until his retirement last year was director of the Communication-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center, an Army unit in Fort Monmouth, N.J., that took the lead in talks with the authority.

In September 2003, the authority's board voted, at a closed-door meeting, to approve the talks with the Army. But the next month, the Army made it clear that it would need more control than the authority was prepared to give up, Ms. Hakim said.

A spokesman for the Army research center said that many issues complicated the talks, including the authority's requirement that contractors obtain liability insurance.

"The Army is not a contractor and under federal statutes does not buy insurance," the spokesman, Henry Kearney, said yesterday.

By December 2003, the authority decided to switch to an entirely new strategy and solicited proposals from engineering firms for designs to make the transit system more impervious to attack.

There was one coda to the nearly two years of talks. Last year, the authority issued a "task-order agreement" allowing the Army to provide small-scale engineering reviews, related to counterterrorism, on an advisory basis, Ms. Hakim said. So far, no such orders have been issued.

"We haven't needed them to date," she said.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

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