Tuesday, August 15, 2006
'The most dangerous two miles in America'
Drive up and down the New Jersey Turnpike, and it's easy to see why this state is a potential playground for terrorists. There is a two mile stretch from Newark Airport to Port Elizabeth that terrorism experts have dubbed, "The most dangerous two miles in America."

"It's the consequence that frankly scares the pants off of us, when you think about what might happen in such a congested area," says New Jersey Homeland Security Director Richard Canas.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. And on this particular swath of land there are hundreds of potential terrorist targets -- chemical plants, rail yard, rail lines, refineries, an international airport, and the third largest port in the country, Port Elizabeth.

If a terrorist were to strike one of the many chlorine gas plants here, how much damage could he do?

Canas says a worst-case attack would bring lethal harm to more than 12 million people in a 14 mile radius. Even so, he's most concerned about the port itself. More than four million containers arrive there every year. But they are only inspected on the way out, not on the way in.

Clark Kent Ervin, a CNN security analyst and former inspector general of DHS, says New Jersey needs more money, better technology, and tighter perimeter security to really protect itself.

Canas tells me he has asked the federal government for $800 million to secure the state, but only got 10 percent of that. So he's forced to rely on tips from the public to keep safe. This year, his homeland security department received only one tip about a suspicious vessel.

What makes the chemical plants vulnerable?

Canas says only a fraction of the security requirements are mandated by the state of New Jersey. Most policing is left up to the plants themselves.

I spent some time yesterday in Kearny, New Jersey, where many of the potential targets fall. I talked to Deputy Police Chief Jack Corbett, who told me, "We have adequate patrols there. Could we staff that area 24 hours a day with 100 people to try and keep terrorists away? I don't think that's possible."

The railways in the area are another concern. Given the passenger train bombings in India and London, Canas has added rail marshals and is increasing training for transit police.

After hearing about all these vulnerabilities, I wonder how much will be enough when it comes to deterring terrorism.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 2:46 PM ET
  32 Comments
Again, I will repeat what I sent earlier. There is no way it will EVER be feasibly possible for the US govt to monitor, track and deal with every possible conceivable scenario, target or situation. And, shame on people like Lamont of CT and other politicians who use this fiscal impossibility as a way to win votes this November. We are going to have to face the fact - the US is too big, too unstructured and not socialistic enough like Britain or Canada to ever post cameras in key strategic places. You have real problems with civil liberties vs safety. Until you deal with the civil liberties, you cannot have your cake (ultimate terrorist free zones) and eat it too (no more terrorist acts in the US). I also cringe when I think about allowing the govt to "wiretap" without legal permission, but I have nothing to hide, so what is the issue? Why not put up cameras everywhere in NY city, you might catch more illegal activity than you would terrorist activity - is that such a bad thing? But as a Canadian living in the US, I'm a weird balance between socialist political views and the middle of the road conservative ideals of the US. Side note: when is the US going to allow free health care for all uuuuggghhhh! Aren't you tired of paying horrendous amounts of money for health insurance, hospital costs, and seeing the poor and indigent suffer needlessly? Sorry, side rant.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy, Summerville, SC : 3:03 PM ET
About camera surveillance:

You have nothing to hide, and I have nothing to hide, but what will be considered illegal in the future and how easy is it for something innocent to be taken out of context?

Issues and policy change all the time and I think what most peole worry over is that the more power you give a government, the more danger the public is in if that govrenment turns corrupt.
Posted By Anonymous Kristin, Western Texas : 3:51 PM ET
When is the news media going to stop telling the world about the weaknesses of America and how to attack them? Whatever happened to the "Loose lips sink ships" mentality?
Posted By Anonymous Terrie, Reno,NV : 3:52 PM ET
I looked at my calendar and I didn't notice that this is "National Give Your Viewers Acute Anxiety Week." But I see that CNN has upgraded that to "Scare the Bejesus Out of Our Viewers Week!"
First Tom, then Sean, and now you, Randi. Couldn't you all have gotten together and combined your three doomsday scenarios into one apocalyptic blog and gotten it over with? For the sake of our nervous systems.
Posted By Anonymous Diane, Long Island, NY : 4:12 PM ET
To Tracy, I have problems acting thinking this is just another scenario. I sure dont like having the most densely populated area sitting next to chemical plant somewhat unprotected. Lets pray there aren't many scenario's that could lead to 12 million deaths in a 14 mile radius, if this is "just another scenario" then I suppose I have much more to fear than I thought.
Posted By Anonymous Ben Morgan, Virginia Beach VA : 4:18 PM ET
After reading your posting about the Jersey Turnpike, I turned to 23 other employees in my office and asked if any of them would have known or thought about this being such a great target until now - they ALL said no. I would guess that millions of Americans wouldn't have thought of it - and, no doubt you just clued in a few million terrorists at the same time - we all agreed that our lives were not made better by now having that information so why did it need to be written at all - who are you serving by laying out such a beautiful plan for the nest terrorist attack? Thanks for yet another example of irresponsible journalism!
Posted By Anonymous K. Callan, Phoenix, AZ : 4:21 PM ET
America is simply too large to protect every single assest. The best solution is to keep the terrorists from entering the country in the first place. Fix the holes in the ship instead of trying to lock every door inside the ship to keep the water out of that particular room.
Posted By Anonymous js, regina, sk canada : 4:23 PM ET
Randi- I am sick of these bloggers blameing CNN for informing the terrorist of the U.S. points of vulnrabilities. Do these people need to get out of their little bowls more often? Paranoid much? I am sure that the stupid terorist have looked at many methods of destruction that we could not possibly imagine. These bloggers need to chill out and get a life. Thanks CNN for keeping us informed, not the terrorist.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Summers, College Station, Tx : 4:26 PM ET
After the last three posts, I can see why our media outlets work against everything we try to protect. Here are three perfect examples of places people wishing to do harm could do so easily, thanks to the outlines by these correspondents. At what point do we decide not to write about a vulnerable location for fear it provides fodder for an attack? And who is to say that the attack needs to come from the outside, from foreigners wishing to do harm? We are almost writing scipts for those from within, who are disgruntled with something - ANYTHING - to make the news. This is what makes me the most fearful; our reliance on constant information could be our biggest vulnerability.
Posted By Anonymous Rose, Saratoga, NY : 4:27 PM ET
Wow, so now Jersey has the most dangerous two miles in the U.S. and they have city with the highest murder rate. Keep up the good work NJ!
Posted By Anonymous Emma Russell, Downingtown, PA : 4:52 PM ET
Randi,
That is so scary! I did not realize how vulnerable that area really was! Thanks for the analysis.
Stephanie Wood
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie Wood, Charles Town, WV : 4:54 PM ET
Pretty sure this write up won't come as a surprise to the terrorists. These targets are in plain sight along the highway. No offense, but that's the point of the article.

My issue is with the comment made by the police chief that 100 people 24 hours a day isn't feasible. What?! To protect 12 million within 14 miles! Sounds pretty cheap to me. Imagine the cost of a successful terrorist plot.

Lastly, Tracy, there's no such thing as a free lunch. How does a government with a huge budget deficit pay for healthcare? Do you think just because it's "free" to you that doctors, hospitals and staff, drug companies, equipment manufacturers and everything else in the system is going to work for "free?"
Posted By Anonymous Scott, Westcheser, NY : 5:11 PM ET
Randi,
Echoeing the sentiments of other bloggers, you can never be and feel completely protected. BTW who said Canada has cameras all over the place??
Posted By Anonymous G.G.,Ontario, Canada : 5:23 PM ET
What good would cameras do against someone intent on causing harm at a chemical plant? London, especially its subway system, has cameras everywhere--yet suicide bombers still struck on July 7th, 2005... All that cameras would do here is show you WHO did the dirty deed. A terrorist on a suicide mission will not turn back and change his mind when he realizes his face is on tape...
Posted By Anonymous Mark - Chicago, IL : 5:28 PM ET
Maybe, we should place tracking devices in everyone, strip everyone of ALL materials including clothes, each person can get a daily interogation and mind conditioning. We can censor all material that shows violence or views not in line with what the media approves for us, place cameras absolutely everywhere, setup military posts throughout all cities. Curfews are a must, in fact, all people should be required to have permission to do anything or go anywhere (this information can be implanted in their tracking device readable only to the government enforcers). People really should only be allowed to work or to be in their quarters, anything else and they could be conspiring to do who knows what and that's how people get killed.
Posted By Anonymous John, Essex, CT : 5:36 PM ET
The truth is whatever we do will not be enough. Any place is vulnerable, especially crowded places; malls, airports, train stations, etc. The best thing to do is do a risk analysis and provide adequate funding to those places which pose the most risk (easier said than done). Have cameras all over the place. Have people report on suspicious activity. Invest in research and development on new technology for early detection. All we can do is do the best we can and not worry about it, because at that point, it�s like worrying about an earthquake.
Posted By Anonymous Beth, Edmonds, WA : 5:53 PM ET
And unfortunately, when disaster does strike again, everyone will be pointing fingers and asking why the authorities were so inept. People will completely forget about the - "I have to live life today, and can't possibly let fear and what if's get in the way."
Posted By Anonymous Renae: Appleton, WI : 5:56 PM ET
In my opinion, the press should definitely publish such reports. Terrorists that know what they're doing probably research good targets before hand and would very likely find out about it anyway. The media, on the other hand, gets the word out to the public and allows them to do something about it.
Posted By Anonymous Terry, Seattle, WA : 6:14 PM ET
I live in NJ and drive that stretch of Turnpike every time I go to the airport. The smell is amazing by the way (that's a joke.) The press has a duty to inform the American public of potential terrorist targets, but anyone with common sense should know that a two mile run of chemical plants, railroads, a major internation airport, and shipping port would know that. Don't blame CNN, the NY Times, etc. for just reinforcing what the terrorists already know.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy, Somerville, NJ : 6:33 PM ET
Well, here we go again. Announcing to the world what the vulnerabilities are in the United States. One might just as well send out an engraved invitation to terrorist groups to strike the targets discussed. What a good idea it is to tell potential terrorists that a chemical plant is low on security and how much damage could be done if they were to attack.

Is there anything a veiwer can say that would convince the media to not point out vulnerabilities and recipies for disaster?
Posted By Anonymous Melody Chapin, Harbor Springs : 6:44 PM ET
Although I can understand some bloggers with their concern about "giving clues" to the terrorists about our vulnerable spots in the US, I am also appreciative for reports like this so that we can address those issues. I live smack in between two Nuclear plants and if there was an issue surrounding the security at these two plants, I would want CNN to report it and to inform us...that is what news should be about....thanks
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 7:07 PM ET
People, people, people...As a native New Yorker, I can tell you all that ANYONE who has ever driven the NJ turnpike in the Elizabeth area knows how many chemical plants etc. are there. HELLO?!? There's smokestacks, and huge tanks, and tons of industrial buildings RIGHT NEXT TO THE TURNPIKE. Right. There. Anyone can see them people, and trust me, anyone can smell them and know for a fact that it ain't Martha Stewart baking brownies over there.

Oh, and there's an airport a few miles further down the road, also right next to the turnpike. It's a big international one - Newark International Airport, in case that rings a bell.

Randi, along with Tom and Sean, thank you for your blogging and excellent reporting. Apparently, while indulging themselves in fantasies that our enemies are comprised of of the very fearsome Buckwheat and Alfalfa, it's easy for many readers to say that you're telling the world where our super double top secret targets-that-can-be-seen-from-any-satellite-photo-on-googleearth.com are located. I'm sorry to inform everyone that we're not blurting out secrets, and they're not ignoramuses. By writing these blogs, Randi, Sean and Tom are educating and informing YOU, so that you may raise your voices loud enough to be heard by your congressmen. Don't like the idea that 12 million people in a 14 mile radius can be killed in a single second? Go call the people you did (or, for many of you, didn't bother to) vote into office. But do not go burying your heads in the sand and hoping that the Bogeyman will go away.

Get a grip people. We're not fighting a tribe of pygmies dancing with spears and using smoke signals to find out where our vulnerabilities are hidden. The enemy, no matter how bassackwards or third-world you may believe their countries to be, are incredibly sophisticated. You think they don't know about NJ? You're so wrong. And I can bet that they know about a thousand or so other places that you are afraid to find out about. By knowing about them, you have power to yell and scream and demand answers from your congressmen regarding what they're doing to protect you. If you don't know about them and don't demand for changes to be made, then you're just making it that much easier for someone else to attack.

Wake up people, and stop whining. You're afraid everytime you hear another vulnerability listed in the news only because you're starting to realize you're mortal. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge of your own vulnerabilities and being able to do something about them to protect yourself is POWER.
Posted By Anonymous Andi M.D. Gaithersburg, MD : 7:29 PM ET
It is a strange feeling to turn to the latest blog entry, and to find it chronicling the security status of my very own home state.

I think I am coming from a very interesting perspective as I am a member of the press, as well as a New Jerseyite.

I have nothing but the utmost absolute respect for the people at CNN as they continue their excellent coverage of our nation's response to credible terrorist threats, both on the homefront and abroad. Being a journalist I know how hard we work to bring people like you the latest news about what is really going on, as well as problems or issues that really need to be brought to the forefront.

Before anyone gets up in arms, we don't target certain stories or places in the hopes that some potential terrorist will read our coverage and cook up a brand new plot. That isn't the aim at all.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out New Jersey always has been and will continue to be a very vulnerable state since we are so densely populated, since we have so many people and businesses within such a small radius.

The press is simply doing their job, letting you, the American people, know what is wrong with the system. We take our jobs very seriously. If a respected institution like CNN takes the time to do a story on a two mile stretch of NJ highway, it is for a reason. To make you aware of what is really going on.

I hate to break it to you, but NJ has been targeted before. I know because I lived through it firsthand. Letters containing Anthrax were mailed from a mail box in the town where I used to work, right here in NJ. This happened right after 9/11. The postal system in that town was shut down for weeks. We literally didn't get any mail. I am stating this to make an important point. They have struck here before, they could very well strike again.

We should thank the folks at CNN for making we, the residents of NJ, aware of our state's weaknesses when it comes to the security of our infrastructure. That is why we have a democratic government in place. If you are reading this blog right now, then you have the power to look up your local congressional senator or representative on Google. If you are considering writing an angry reply in response to this entry, why not stop and instead write a letter asking your local representative for action. That's what they are there for.

Kudos to CNN and the rest of the media for their dedication and excellent coverage of the events as they continue to unfold.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer W., Princeton, NJ : 10:46 PM ET
Well fantastic! Let's post our weaknesses on the internet for all the terrorists to read! Brilliant.
Posted By Anonymous Jenn Orlando FL : 9:04 AM ET
What it more disconcerting than the prison abuse is that Rumsfeld outted Darby. You would be a fool not to think that by exposing the person who exposed the pronson abuse wouldn't be put in jeopardy.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Houston Texas : 9:05 AM ET
Give up.
We're finished.
Does anyone remember the Roman Empire?
Posted By Anonymous Andy Sacolaro Martinsburg, VA : 9:11 AM ET
Why is it that it takes a tradgedy to happen before the government moves to ensure the safety of the people. You would think after the outcome of the unrepaired levees they would see the light. I still say if they spent less money on wars and more on their own needs, America would be a safer place to live.
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Ont. Canada : 10:10 AM ET
I am becoming more and more disturbed about where the respoasibility for national security lies in the media. As a wary citizen , I see quite often the media reveal where our weknesses are , give out vulnerable targets for terrorism and predict the results of a specifice target. This certainly adds to my fears and insecurity. Why don't we just give them a booklet with maps and directions on the best and most devastating targets in the US ! We are handing over our weaknesses and vulnerabilities on a silver platter and inviting the terrorists to dinner. These times necessitate a review of what is responsible to print. I shudder each time I read an article like this.We are doing their work for them and issuing an invitation to boot. I find this absolutely stupid, irresponsible and a matter of national security . I'm sure our enemies, even some yet unnamed and perhaps home grown, are collecting these revelations since we are doing their research for them. Think about this. I hope this has already become a topic of concern. .
Posted By Anonymous Anne H Siems, Huntingdon,Pa : 10:23 AM ET
"I looked at my calendar and I didn't notice that this is "National Give Your Viewers Acute Anxiety Week." But I see that CNN has upgraded that to "Scare the Bejesus Out of Our Viewers Week!"
First Tom, then Sean, and now you, Randi. Couldn't you all have gotten together and combined your three doomsday scenarios into one apocalyptic blog and gotten it over with? For the sake of our nervous systems.

Posted By Diane, Long Island, NY : 4:12 PM ET"

Thats because the media knows what our government knows. We will never be 100% safe. People will always do horrible things. They use terrorism for more practical uses. It allows them to invade countries, bend personal agenda into nation interest, draw in viewers, use cool fonts and headlines in prime time for ratings.
Posted By Anonymous Warren San Diego, Ca : 12:54 PM ET
I say we point out, on world-wide television, all the places in this country where we are most vunerable. And lets have lots of experts detail just how and why we're so vunerable at all these places. And let's announce to the world where the President and Vice President, and all our leaders are at, at any given point in time. And we should tell the world where all our weapons are at, and what they can do, and explain exactly how they operate. While we're at it, we could tell the world how bad a condition our military is in, being stretched too thin, over-worked, etc. Once we get everything announced to the world, I'm sure those who hate us will think twice before attempting to do anything to us.
Posted By Anonymous Lee-Russellville, AL : 1:36 PM ET
I'm watching John Stewart and "The Daily Show" right now and viewing some sensationalized CNN "news" ... I think the "Target: America" on CNN is totally bogus, dude, in short, caca. Yes, caca.
Posted By Anonymous Ron Houssaye, Milwaukee, WI : 11:22 PM ET
Granted intelligent foes can spot our attractive weak points. The wannabees might need a little help. They are as much a threat as the really intelligent ones, really.

But there is not enough money in the universe to make any country 100% safe. So the U.S. government, in debt up to its ears, is expected to borrow (from where?) trillions of insufficient dollars and make you all safe? Get real people!

Each corporation, each state, each town, needs to assume a huge part in the solution to this problem. We need to wean ourselves off the welfare habit that makes the feds financially responsibility for all of our financial, security, and nutritional needs.

We don't have enouth troops, guardsmen, police, or any other enforcement entities to cover all the holes. Who's left?? Ohmigawd! I am!

Let's stop the finger pointing and name-calling. We are all in the same foxhole here. We need to start covering each other. But that will require sacrifice, commitment, and personal expense. Are we worth that?

I believe we are.
Posted By Anonymous Bruce, Vicenza, It. : 3:04 PM ET
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