- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

NEW YORK — U.N. security chiefs, mindful of shortcomings that contributed to a deadly blast at the organization’s Iraq headquarters two years ago, are working to complete a $36.7 million security upgrade at the New York headquarters before world leaders descend for their annual summit next month.

The preparations include an increase in uniformed guards to more than 300 people, the installation of new lighting and closed-circuit cameras, and the construction of an 8-foot perimeter fence along First Avenue that briefly closed one lane to traffic last month.

Considerably more disruption can be expected when as many as 180 presidents, prime ministers and princes converge on the 17-acre compound on New York’s East River for the two-week General Assembly session in mid-September.

Authorities routinely block off 14 blocks of First Avenue, parts of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive and several cross streets during the summit. Much of New York’s East Side will be further disrupted by the comings and goings of countless motorcades as dignitaries make their way to hundreds of meetings, dinners and receptions.

“It is a hassle, a terrible hassle,” said one taxi driver, a native of Nigeria. “I wish they didn’t all come at once.”



Officials were reluctant to talk about the preparations, but former security chief Michael McCann recalled that his own worst moments always came when the world leaders convened for a group photo.

“They’re in one place at one time, one room,” he said last week. “That was the high point from the security perspective.”

Although past General Assemblies have gone off without incident, security officials are still smarting from the criticism received after an Aug. 17, 2003, car bomb killed 22 persons and wounded more than 150 at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

An international panel subsequently concluded that the U.N. security system was “dysfunctional,” and security chief Tun Myat of Burma was asked to resign.

Access to the grounds of the New York complex has been a concern since a disturbed man with a gun jumped the fence in October 2002 and fired off seven shots, narrowly missing U.N. employees inside the Secretariat building.

A new director of security, David Vaness, has been hired from Britain’s Metropolitan Police, where he was the commissioner for crime. Although he would not discuss details of the security plans for next month’s summit, past sessions are an indicator of what New Yorkers can expect.

Black-clad marksmen likely will be visible along the rooflines and bomb-sniffing dogs will prowl the streets. Whole blocks of Midtown Manhattan will be declared a “frozen zone,” closed to pedestrians and cars, to protect the four-star hotels where the VIPs will stay.

“You hate to use the cliche,” said Mr. McCann, who has formed a protective service consultancy after 11 years at the United Nations, “but every year, we say the threat is at the highest level.”

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