Security asleep on Brooklyn Bridge

More times than I want to count during the past week, I have heard others discussing recent news events, followed by a “what is happening in the world?” Jetliners shot from the sky, airports under fire, two more planes crashing, parents who believe their children are better off crossing international borders alone than continuing to live in their home countries, United Nations shelters being shelled … it seemed there for a few days as though one bad news story just kept topping the last.

One story, though, struck me in a way some of the others had not. It was a small story, maybe a lot of people missed it. But it was a little closer to home, and seemed so bizarre to me, particularly in light of some of the others.

Early Wednesday morning, a group of people managed to replace the giant American flags flying on the Brooklyn Bridge with bleached out versions. By the time the sun rose, one of the most famous bridges in the world was sporting two billowing white banners.

These folks managed, on what is supposed to be one of New York City’s most heavily monitored landmarks, to get through a locked gate, climb bridge cables, cover the lighting on both towers with aluminum pans and zip ties, switch out two huge flags and walk away.

Security video shows five people crossing the bridge. About half an hour later, it shows the lights on the Brooklyn tower going out, and 12 minutes after that, the lights on the Manhattan tower go out. It sounds like something out of a movie.

New York police are disturbingly clueless about the situation. They don’t know who did it, they don’t know why, they can’t figure out how anyone was able to plan such a sophisticated stunt. I could almost hear the flailing from NYPD anti-terrorism chief John Miller when he said, “It might be some kind of art project or statement. But we are not sure what that statement is.”

I don’t go to work in Manhattan every day, anymore. I don’t even get to visit very often. But it is still a city close to my heart, and one I worry about. When the folks charged with protecting the city terrorists have right at the top of their lists don’t even catch on to an attempt that could have come from a Steven Soderbergh film, it is clear something is still broken.

I had so many questions: Why wasn’t anyone watching the security video? Why weren’t there police waiting at the bottom of the tower when these guys came back down? What happened to “See something, say something?” Didn’t anyone see this happening? What if they had been placing bombs? Why is the anti-terror chief so quick to say there is no connection to terrorism or politics? How could this happen on the Brooklyn Bridge, of all places?

When I did get a chance to visit Manhattan recently, I noticed far fewer security personnel in the subway stations. I didn’t see a single armed officer, where it had been common to see more than one wandering the platforms, even just a year ago.

In fact, a lot of things felt more relaxed, though, at the time, I chalked it up to my own more relaxed attitude, as a visitor and not a commuter. Now I’m not so sure.

Norway’s Police Security Service announced last week it has received information that led officials to believe the country will be the target of a terrorist action, possibly in the near future. In addition to making the announcement about gathered intelligence, the country has also ramped up security at airports, train stations, ports – even major intersections. They are doing their best not to leave anything to chance. I would think it would be difficult for five people with aluminum pans and zip ties to, at the very least, make a statement about their level of access to one of the country’s most well-known landmarks.

But, then again, until last week, I would have thought the same about New York City. For now, anyway, I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed while I join the rest of my fellow news-readers in asking “what is happening in the world?”

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com