2003-08-15 / Front Page

A Shoulder-Fired Missile Scenario For Rockaway?

By Howard Schwach
A Shoulder-Fired Missile Scenario For Rockaway?

A Shoulder-Fired Missile Scenario For Rockaway?

By Howard Schwach

Three fishermen in a rubber raft, lost in Jamaica Bay, run into a storm. They pull up to a pier at John F. Kennedy Airport, climb off the raft and wander around supposedly-secure runways for a while. With aircraft taking off all around them, nobody seems to notice the three men walking the runways.

Finally, the three men find a police post at the airport and go in to ask for help.

Another New York City story that could have been more chilling. Suppose the three had been terrorists, toting shoulder-fired missiles that can bring down a large jetliner nearly two miles up, nonetheless one taking off or landing at the airport?

Police and others concerned with anti-terrorist activity in New York City were chilled by the incident.

While nobody wants to detail the plans that they have for stopping such an attack, some agency sources were willing to talk in generalities for the record.

"This is unacceptable," Port Authority spokesperson Pasquale DiFulco told reporters this week. "We’ve put into place some interim measures, but we have some long-term measures that we are planning as well."

In terms of a Rockaway scenario, however, access to the airport is not important.

Every Rockaway resident knows that aircraft regularly fly over the peninsula every few minutes during peak travel hours.

"There are literally dozens of places one man can stop, get out of his car and fire a missile at a passing plane," one local resident, who asked not to be identified for this story, told The Wave. "Anybody out on a boat on Jamaica Bay would literally have dozens of targets to pick from in any given time period, day or night."

"There is really little anybody can do to stop that kind of thing," he added.

A typical shoulder-fired missile is four to five feet long and weighs about 25 pounds. The missiles can be ready for firing in seconds.

Police, however, have plans to stop such an eventuality.

"There is an exclusion zone around the airport that is patrolled by our Harbor Unit," a police spokesperson for the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) says. "When somebody enters that exclusion zone, both the Harbor Unit and the Aviation Unit typically will be dispatched to check the vessel out."

The exclusion zone is now 25 yards around the airport perimeter, but the Coast Guard is reportedly lobbying to make the zone 200 yards wide.

NYPD sources, however, declined to speculate on whether checks on boaters in the bay would increase as a result of the JFK incident, coupled with the recent "sting" that caught shoulder-fired missiles being brought into the country.

He admitted, however, that the NYPD had only one boat in the Jamaica Bay area, Harbor Adam, which is docked in Howard Beach. Other boats, however, can be called to respond in an emergency.

At any given time on a hot day during the weekend, there may be up to 100 or 150 boats in the bay at any given time.

The Coast Guard, which once patrolled Jamaica Bay on a regular basis, no longer has a presence in the bay.

Coast Guard response in an emergency must come from Sandy Hook in New Jersey or from Westhampton on Long Island.

The United States Park Police regularly patrol the bay with several boats they have docked at Riis Landing across from Fort Tilden. In fact, much of the bay "belongs" to the federal Gateway National Recreation Area and is the responsibility of the Park Police.

"We make documented security checks of the airport and the bridges over Jamaica Bay several times a day," Sergeant Grant Arthur of the Park Police Marine Division told The Wave. "We’re out there looking for boats too close to Kennedy’s shore or the radar towers. What we find are mostly fishermen."

"There is certainly a buzz about patrolling the area" now that the incident with the three boaters and the smuggled missile have come to public notice, he says.

According to published reports, the smuggler in the recent missile case believed that he was bringing in a missile "to bring down an airliner on September 11."

In fact, the "buyers" of the missile were federal agents who had been tipped off that missiles were on the market by Russian intelligence sources.

One man charged with facilitating the deal by transferring money was identified by federal sources as Yehuda Abrams, of Queens. The sources, however, say that they are not sure that Abrams knew what he was financing.

"The threat facing commercial airliners in the United States from shoulder-fired missiles in no longer theoretical," Senator Charles Schumer told reporters. "It is here."

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