New York — Steel barricades that can rise into place to stop up to 7 1/2 tons of speeding truck and cameras capable of reading a newspaper a block away are just some of the new measures protecting federal court buildings for the city's fifth major terrorism trial in a decade.
Construction crews worked through freezing weather in the past several week to finish strengthening security in time for today's opening statements in United States vs. Osama bin Laden.
The Saudi millionaire accused of leading a global terrorism empire is a fugitive believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. But four of his alleged followers are on trial on conspiracy charges in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 224 people, 12 of them Americans.
The bombings exposed security weaknesses at many U.S. government locations.
The new security improvements around two adjacent federal court buildings in lower Manhattan are "important substantially and symbolically," said Ray Kelly, whose tenure as New York City police commissioner encompassed the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center.
"I'm confident there are no specific threats out there, but given the developments over the last few years, this is a smart move. It acts as a major deterrent," he said.
The security measures involve the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse and the historic old U.S. Courthouse, which sit in the Foley Square area packed with federal, state and city court and government buildings.
Among the security work:
l Two of the world's largest custom-made hydraulically operated barricades block the ends of a street which runs between the two courthouses. The barricades thick steel plates that can be lowered to let traffic pass or swiftly raised out of the ground at the press of a button are designed to stop a truck loaded to 15,000 pounds and moving at up to 80 mph.
Delta Scientific Vice President David G. Dickinson Sr. said his company has erected barriers protecting 200 embassies worldwide, 50 federal courthouses and 85 nuclear power plants. Among the buildings it protects are the Pentagon, State Department headquarters and the U.S. Supreme Court.
l A line of thick, steel posts known as bollards, set four feet into the ground and rising four feet above ground, stand in front of the columned U.S. Courthouse. Delta Scientific says they will stop a truck loaded to 15,000 pounds and traveling at up to 50 mph.
l Heavily armed guards, some stationed in newly installed steel-encased booths with bulletproof windows.
l Cameras hidden within light fixtures or attached to nearby buildings, providing a view of the courthouses with lenses so strong they can read a newspaper from a block away.
The cameras, equipped for night vision, also allow monitoring of the nearby Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal lockup that has housed several dozen accused terrorists since the Feb. 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others. Six men were convicted after that attack.
Inside the courtroom, video cameras placed near the ceiling allow marshals outside to keep watch. Each morning, dogs trained to detect explosives sniff around the courtroom. Everyone entering is screened by a metal detector.
"Terrorism is at our doorstep on U.S. soil," said Shirley Pierini, director of corporate risk for Kroll Associates, a corporation specializing in white collar crime investigation and security.