By Pam Martens: November 12, 2012
Over the past five years, more than $150 million of taxpayer money has been dumped into a spy center in Lower Manhattan where employees of Wall Street firms and real estate behemoths sit side by side with municipal police to spy on the comings and goings of pedestrians on the streets around Wall Street. But none of the thousands of spy cameras positioned around the city that feed into this center foresaw the storm surge that put as much as 40 feet of corrosive salt water in the basements of commercial buildings in Lower Manhattan, crippling thousands of businesses along with the lives of area residents.
With major businesses and employees dislocated indefinitely as landlords of commercial buildings deal with boilers and electrical systems destroyed by massive flooding, soggy debris that must be carted out, and in some cases extensive cleanup from toxins from fuel that mixed with the salt water, the question arises as to whether that $150 million of taxpayer money, both city and Federal funds, could have more wisely been put to use in securing Lower Manhattan with sea gates and storm barriers.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly call significant owners or occupants of commercial property in Lower Manhattan “stakeholders.” Goldman Sachs is a major stakeholder as is Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (which bought the landmark 33 Maiden Lane building for $207.5 million in February). The largest stakeholder in Lower Manhattan is Brookfield Office Properties Inc., which played such a significant role in the crackdown and eventual eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from the public space, Zuccotti Park, which it owns.
Brookfield is a majority owner of One, Two, Three and Four World Financial Center, One Liberty Plaza, One New York Plaza, and a 44.6 percent owner of World Financial Center Retail. (Brookfield also owns commercial property in other areas of Manhattan including The Grace Building in midtown.)
Under a deal originally crafted in 2005 with Goldman Sachs, and unearthed in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly promised Edward Forst, a Goldman Sachs’ Executive Vice President at the time, that the NYPD “is committed to the development and implementation of a comprehensive security plan for Lower Manhattan…One component of the plan will be a centralized coordination center that will provide space for full-time, on site representation from Goldman Sachs and other stakeholders.”
The spy center plan was officially known as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and the facility on lower Broadway is dubbed the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. More than 2,000 private spy cameras owned by Wall Street firms, together with approximately 1,000 more owned by the NYPD, relay live video feeds of people on the streets in lower Manhattan to the center where the data is integrated. At least 700 cameras are in place in midtown with a feed to the center. The center is also equipped with video analytics which can track a person based on the color of their hat or jacket and live feeds from license plate readers. None of this high-tech snooping on pedestrians saved Lower Manhattan from the disaster of Hurricane Sandy.
Corporate spying on law-abiding citizens is so hush-hush that for more than a year this writer has been denied access to records under a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request of just which companies have a seat at the center. But thanks to an unlikely source, a foreign news service which was invited to a press briefing at the center, photographs of the following brass plates show these corporate occupants: Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of New York, New York Stock Exchange, Federal Reserve Bank of New York – and Brookfield Properties. (If it seems irrational to you that a foreign news service is allowed to photograph a super secret Wall Street spy center but a journalist is denied access to legally protected public records, you’re in good company with a lot of others.)
Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly created the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center with no public hearings and no meaningful public oversight and now refuse to honor the law of New York State, the Freedom of Information Law which requires readily available documents to be turned over to the public within five business days.
At least 43 people died in New York City as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the majority from drowning, thousands of residents are homeless or dislocated, and Lower Manhattan businesses have been deeply impacted. Some small businesses may not survive the toll.
As hearings commence on the impact of Hurricane Sandy and future hurricane preparedness, we need to include full disclosure on just how much taxpayer money has been misdirected to nonsensical corporate spy centers with no public accountability.
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