After Times Square bombing, should New York get more anti-terrorism funding?

Historically vulnerable cities like New York claim they need more anti-terrorism funds. After Faisal Shahzad's attempted Times Square bombing, will the Department of Homeland Security agree?

By , Staff writer

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    New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (r.), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Rep. Peter King (l.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 5, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. After the failed Times Square bombing, will New York get enough anti-terrorism funds from DHS.
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On Tuesday, two and a half weeks after the botched Times Square bombing attempt, Faisal Shahzad finally appeared in the Federal District Court in lower Manhattan to be formally charged with five felony counts, including two that could lead to life imprisonment.

Mr. Shahzad was in court for an initial appearance which normally happens within a day or two of an arrest. But, the Justice Department says he has waived his right to a speedy court appearance and has been providing the government with what it termed “valuable intelligence.”

Neither he nor his attorney, Julia Gatto, a federally appointed defender, made any statements. The next legal step for Shahzad, a Pakistani-American might be a formal indictment or he might even plead guilty. Judge James Francis ordered he be held without bail.

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But, in the weeks leading up to Shahzad’s official arraignment, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been raising questions about whether New York is getting its fair share of federal anti-terrorism funds.

“We never get our fair share,” he told a reporter in Washington on a recent visit. “The one thing we’ve got to make sure is that we don’t just willy-nilly give everybody Homeland Security money ... when they don’t really need it.”

Has Mayor Bloomberg found room for improvement in the funding system, or is he trying to get a larger share of the $2.7 billion that the Homeland Security Department proposes to spend on state and local antiterrorism activities in 2010?

Maybe he means it both ways.

After 9/11, Congress decided that every state should receive antiterror funds, whether or not it had experienced a terrorist attack or threat. This fiscal year, each state will receive at least $6.6 million. The total price tag: $842 million. A separate amount, adding up to about the same figure, will go to 64 urban areas.

Underlying this spending – and Bloomberg's assertion – is a basic issue: Should the money be spent where terrorists have struck before or anywhere a potential target exists?

"This is a politically charged issue," says Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "It's easy to make the argument that rural states and the Midwest should not get as much funding, but they need some level of funding to support their unique security challenges."

Many cities eligible for funding have nuclear power plants, refineries, deep-water ports, military bases, and airports – not to mention Internet hubs. One academic study picked Boise, Idaho, as a big potential terror target because it is situated 42 miles downstream from the Anderson Ranch hydroelectric dam.

But different priorities emerge if one looks at where terrorists have struck before. According to a study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), more than half of all terror attacks in the United States since 1970 have occurred in New York or California.

"It turns out terrorists are not all that logical," says Gary LaFree, director of START, which is at the University of Maryland in College Park. "They go for the World Trade Center even though it's been hardened. They go more for the symbolic target."

New York City gets 18 percent of the federal antiterror funds for cities, as part of the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). The Big Apple gets almost triple what Washington or Chicago receives.

Still, the funding level is a sensitive issue for New Yorkers. On May 13, politicians howled in protest over what they claimed was a 20 percent reduction in antiterror funds for the ports and transit system. But according to Nick Shapiro, assistant White House press secretary, the city will actually receive an increase of $47 million over last year, when money in the stimulus package is counted.

If the city were awarded more funds, it would add more cameras to midtown Manhattan so it could have better video surveillance of sensitive areas like Times Square. The New York City Police Department did not return phone calls on how else it would like to spend such money.

If the total amount of funding cannot be increased, should some money for other places be rerouted to New York? Not so fast, some communities say.

For example, Oxnard, Calif., expects to receive $2.5 million this year for antiterror purposes. The area might be better known for its lemon groves and great surfing than for terror plots. But Ventura County has a deep-water port and a military-weapons testing facility, says Susan Duenas, who administers the antiterror program for the county.

Ventura County, she says, is beefing up its capabilities to handle people fleeing Los Angeles in the event of a nuclear disaster. "We are on the primary route out, and we would have to deal with it," she says.

Another community, Tulsa, Okla., says it needs the money to prepare for possible terrorism because it is the central location for the oil and natural-gas pipelines that cross America. It's also a hub for fiber-optic cables.

"This is not some Podunk city," says Capt. Rick Weigel of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office. "This is not something we're doing to pad our equipment budget and rip the government off."

In the past, however, Homeland Security money "has been a honey pot for state and local officials," says Gordon Adams, who served as the senior White House budget director for national security during the Clinton administration.

One member of Congress who has tried to change the system is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) of New York. "In each Congress, we have gradually improved our system of allocating homeland security funding so that it is distributed more reasonably across the country, but we can still do much better," he says in a statement for the Monitor.

Related:

The latest New York security scare: federal grants

How New York City fights terror now

New York to fight terrorism with more street-corner cameras

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