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NYPD Tracking Down Workers With Brooklyn Bridge Access in White Flag Case

By Murray Weiss | July 23, 2014 2:36pm
 Department of Transportation workers replaced white flags that mysteriously appeared atop both towers of the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning.
Department of Transportation workers replaced white flags that mysteriously appeared atop both towers of the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning.
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DNAinfo/Janet Upadhye

MANHATTAN — Detectives hunting whoever raised white flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge have begun tracking down anyone who recently worked on the bridge, including city employees and pyrotechnic specialists involved in the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

They are also looking to talk with five young men in their late teens or early 20s whose images were captured on a grainy video around the time investigators believe the flags were swapped.

John Miller, the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, said at a press conference Tuesday that video showed a group of perhaps five people on the bridge around 3:10 a.m. 

The five men were walking from the Manhattan side of the bridge, sources said. One appears to have a skateboard.

While they have become a top priority for investigators to find, sources say the NYPD is also pursuing their suspicion that two teams totaling as many as six suspects responsible for the security breach could have "previous and authorized access” to the bridge towers, sources said.

These sources believe say the pranksters demonstrated “special professional skill sets” that could include construction rigging and hoists needed to circumvent locked gates to scale the 267-foot towers where American flags are illuminated round-the-clock.

“Even the flagpoles are not normal, and these people knew precisely the correct way to rig them and lash the flags correctly in place,” a law enforcement source said. “This is not something someone can just dream up and attempt one day as a prank. It is well calculated and is more than a stunt.”

The NYPD still hasn't determined a motive for the embarrassing breach.

"Don't be surprised if these guys hold union cards," another source said, downplaying the notion that "hipsters" were behind the prank.

Sources say whoever was behind the incident was apparently aware that lights along the span’s suspension cables are routinely turned off at about 3:30 a.m., providing an opportune time to climb undetected to the towers.

Investigators believe they climbed unseen along the cable, and then used their hoisting and rigging skills to get to ladders that lead to the tower tops.

Miller said they used aluminum roasting pans and plastic ties to cover the lights pointing at the American flags, one of which went out at 3:29 a.m. on the Brooklyn side tower and the other 13 minutes later.

He said the suspects may have been up on the tower before, and previously left these materials behind.

Investigators are scouring surveillance cameras in the area for additional images of suspects. They plan on showing the images to officials at construction companies, city vendors and city agencies that had access to the bridge in recent months.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton made it clear that he took the embarrassing security breach extremely seriously, particularly since the Brooklyn Bridge is considered a prime terrorist target and ringed with radiological detectors and guarded by police officers in squad cars, all designed to prevent a major attack.

Sources said an attack on the towers or suspension cables would obviously be troubling, but it would not cripple the bridge’s structural integrity. 

The NYPD has cameras on the bridge, but they primarily are pointed at integral sections of the bridge.