Homeland Security

Restrict Truck Rentals and 'Malicious' Drones, N.Y. Terror Commission Tells Cuomo

A man uses a broom to push up a low power line damaged by a storm so a truck can pass underneath in Newburgh, N.Y., on May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A counterterrorism advisory panel tasked with finding weaknesses and recommending preventive measures to harden New York against attacks called for greater regulation of truck rentals to deter against vehicle attacks.

The state should also look at legislation to ban weaponization and prevent “malicious use” of drones, the committee’s report today said, and should “regulate and track” binary explosive targets used for firearms practice.

The chairman of the panel is Kenneth L. Wainstein, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell and former homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush, and members are former New York City Police Commissioner Ray  Kelly and former homeland security advisor to President Barack Obama Lisa Monaco.

“As we’ve seen time and again, terrorism is an ever-present threat, and we will do everything in our power to help ensure that New Yorkers are safe from whatever extremists try to send our way,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said upon the report’s release. “In order to continue to combat this changing and complex threat to New York, we will take concrete steps to implement the recommendations from our bipartisan national experts.”

The panel recommends a tougher security posture at the state’s airports, bridges, tunnels, and sites that attract large gatherings of people. Transportation hubs such as Penn Station and John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were singled out as particularly attractive terrorist targets.

The panel also recommended that Cuomo appoint a senior counterterrorism advisor to oversee a new multi-agency Statewide Counterterrorism Council, which includes police, military, Port Authority, emergency services and transportation leaders.

“The terrorist threat is not just about New York City. New York is the fourth-most populous state in the country with more than 50% of the population living outside the city. While focus often remains on the downstate risks, New York State covers nearly 55,000 square miles and has 445 miles of border with Canada and multiple borders with other states. New York also has mass gathering locations across the state,” states the report. “Rather than identifying these locations by name—which would only provide a road map to potential attackers—we recommend that New York ensure its state law enforcement functions as a seamless, coordinated unit across the state, because any location where crowds get together is a potential security risk.”

Technology should be optimized for counterterrorism, the panel recommended, calling for a three-stage review to study capabilities of public cameras, automated license plate readers, bomb disposal robots, detectors that spot chemical and biological agents, portable crash barriers and bollards, passive object detection cameras to help spot suicide bombers in a crowd, drone technology, and more.

Places like Penn Station should have a 24/7 command center capable of pulling together all necessary terrorism prevention and response elements, said the report. Changes here could serve as a model for other transportation hubs.

“Nowhere is there a greater need for coordination than Penn Station. It’s the most heavily used train station in the Western Hemisphere: it serves 630,000 daily weekday travelers, more than LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark airports combined (and including over 200,000 daily weekday subway passengers), but its last major security overhaul was in the late 1960s,” the panel wrote. “Obviously, the threat landscape has changed significantly since then.”

Some measures to improve New York’s defenses against terrorism “may require legislation” to “address the threat from tactics and tools favored by terrorists,” the panel advises.

The report recommends that Cuomo “introduce legislation to regulate and track Tannerite and similar kits to keep these dangerous explosives out of terrorists’ hands.” The explosive commonly used for target practice at gun ranges, or a similar compound, was used in the 2016 Chelsea bombing. Large amounts of Tannerite were found in Las Vegas mass shooter Stephen Paddock’s car.

Current New York law bans owning weapons equipped with bump stocks — which can increase the rate of fire from semi-auto to automatic — but does not explicitly prohibit possession or sale of the bump stock itself.

“We recommend closing the bump stock loophole and prohibiting owning or selling bump stock accessories in the state of New York,” the panel said.

Alongside a photo of a white-panel truck similar to that used in Nice, France, and other vehicular attacks, the advisory panel recommends that Cuomo “tighten controls on truck rentals.”

“As extremist groups inspire people to commit terrorist acts, even something as simple as requiring a second form of identification to rent a vehicle or prohibiting leaving the keys in a large truck could deter a potential terrorist,” says the report. “As terrorist publications have advised that large, load-bearing trucks are ‘ideal’ weapons for vehicle-ramming attacks, we urge the Legislature to consider protections that could deter terrorists from using such trucks as weapons against New Yorkers.”

From the roads to the skies, the panel said New York “should also explore legislation to protect its citizens and critical infrastructure from terrorist abuse of drone technology.”

“While use of drones by terrorist organizations has largely been confined to conflict zones, the widespread availability, low cost, and mobility of drones makes an attack on U.S. soil a significant and growing threat,” the experts wrote. “In 2014, the FBI arrested a suspect who allegedly plotted to use drones to bomb a school and a government building. Several states have passed or introduced legislation targeting the weaponization of drones, for example by prohibiting the firing of projectiles from drones or prohibiting possession of a drone with a weapon attached.”

Potential restrictions in New York “that could deter terrorists and provide tools for law enforcement who identify suspicious drone use include prohibiting drone weaponization, restricting firing projectiles from drones, and protecting critical state infrastructure from drone threats.”

“We also recommend that the Governor continue to develop policies and technologies to protect critical state infrastructure from drone interference; and instruct the Council and Advisor to develop a long-term drone strategy to combat the threat posed by unauthorized or malicious use of drones, including possible countermeasures,” the report added. “Because deterrence efforts are unlikely to entirely eliminate unauthorized or malicious use of drones, the development of countermeasures is also important to prevent an attack. As drone technology will continue to evolve, it is imperative that New York stay ahead of the curve.”