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Terror at Goldman Sachs

Money, death, and the decade-long fight to make 200 West Street a fortress in the city.

  • By Aidan Gardiner

Sayfullo Saipov did exactly what Goldman Sachs feared someone would do: Kill people at its doorstep in the name of terror.

The day of the attack was October 31, 2017 — yet Saipov's plan had been growing for years, if only in his backward mind, as he watched ISIS propaganda videos on his cell phone. His urge, as would become apparent to the world on Halloween, was to join ISIS in its bloody war. At last, a little more than a week before the attack, Saipov moved from thought to action, renting a truck from a Home Depot in Passaic, New Jersey, to practice making turns.

Nine days later the Uzbekistan native returned to the store at 2:00 in the afternoon to rent a flatbed truck. He then began his journey to lower Manhattan. Saipov, who sported an unkempt black beard and close-cropped hair, had originally wanted to fly ISIS's distinctive black flags on his truck, but worried they would draw too much attention.

The first New York City law enforcement saw of Saipov was when two license plate readers on the George Washington Bridge spotted the truck. As Saipov crossed the Hudson River at 2:43, temperatures hovered at a pleasant 66 degrees under a clear sky; he had chosen the holiday hoping more people would be on the streets.

Exiting the bridge, he turned south. A few minutes after 3:00, a Port Authority camera on a Holland Tunnel air vent recorded Saipov veering onto a garden-lined pedestrian and bike path along the Hudson. He began to collide with people as he careened down the path.

Saipov would fatally strike eight people, including five Argentinean tourists in Manhattan celebrating their 30th high school reunion. He wounded 12 more people before his mile-long frenzy ended when he slammed into a school bus outside Stuyvesant High School at West and Chambers streets. Unable to continue onto the Brooklyn Bridge as he had hoped, Saipov jumped into the street, leaving behind a bag with knives, his phone, and a wallet carrying his Florida driver's license. Cell phone footage shows Saipov darting through traffic clutching paintball and pellet guns.

Back inside Stuyvesant, Officer Ryan Nash, a five-year veteran working day tours in the First Precinct, was reportedly in the nurse's office visiting a student who had threatened to kill himself when someone told him what was happening. Nash dashed outside with other officers to find Saipov shouting and brandishing his underpowered weapons. The officer shot his firearm, wounding Saipov and ending the attack.

At Bellevue Hospital afterward, Saipov waived his Miranda rights. He said that he "felt good about what he had done," according to prosecutors. He also asked to put up an ISIS flag. He is still awaiting trial.

Saipov's rampage through lower Manhattan was the first terror attack since September 11, 2001, in the area, a part of New York City whose largest tenants include financial institutions — like JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and Morgan Stanley — so vital that the global economy would be badly destabilized if they were to abruptly shutter. The attack itself ended only two short blocks from the largest of those tenants, Goldman Sachs, and its headquarters at 200 West Street, just across from One World Trade Center.

Goldman, however, was ready. In the wake of 9/11, when it boldly announced that it would consolidate its offices into lower Manhattan, the bank began a war of its own — one in which hundreds of millions of dollars of New York City money hung in the balance, local interest groups would grow infuriated, and Goldman would embed itself in some of the most innovative counterterrorism efforts in the world. In doing so, it all but made 200 West Street the safest building in America.


Goldman Sachs' 44-story tower explodes upward from the wide base of its trading floors. Seen from the east side, it's a lattice of long vertical lines and angular corners, all hiding the bowed face it shows the Hudson River. "The new headquarters is architecture as a well-tailored suit. From a distance, the building looks utterly unexceptional, but as you get closer, your eye picks up signs of quality — the drape, as it were, and the stitching," architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in The New Yorker shortly after Goldman opened its headquarters in 2010. "By the time you are close enough to touch this architectural garment, you can tell that a lot of money has been spent."

The $2.1 billion building itself, designed by Henry Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, embodies two long-standing Goldman values: inconspicuousness and protectiveness. Indeed, there's no sign anywhere to betray its tenant, just as there wasn't at the bank's former home at 85 Broad Street. A Canadian engineering consulting firm, Entuitive, boasts that it helped Goldman build "a robust structure that could stand up to basement, grade-level, and airborne threats."

Within its walls, Goldman exudes restrained wealth with tight, but unobtrusive, security. Unlike other banks brimming with oak and stuffed chairs, Goldman's "going for a sleeker design, more modern," says a reporter who covers Wall Street for a major news outlet and visits Goldman up to four times a year. He notes the expensive pieces by famous artists hanging in the bank's meeting rooms. "It's a very nonchalant display of wealth, but tasteful."

Adds the reporter, "The security in the lobby is tight. It seems very out of sight, though. I've seen guards materialize out of nowhere to ask people what they're doing there, even if they're just waiting for someone to come downstairs. Inside, it's not so obvious. I've seen Lloyd Blankfein waiting in the salad line at the cafeteria. It's not like there are armed guards everywhere."

But the swooping grace of the tower's exterior belies the yearslong fight between the bank, various governments, and law enforcement agencies that began in the ashes of the Twin Towers.

After 9/11 the city lost about 430,000 job months, equal to 143,000 jobs each month for three months, according to a federal study. New York's then-comptroller estimated that the city lost $30.5 billion in wealth and a total of up to $64.3 billion in gross city product through 2004. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics covering the economic impact on the city ended by asking ominously, "Will the city ever be the same?"

On top of that, firms were fleeing the Financial District. Three days after the attack, The New York Times ran the headline "After the Attacks: The Exodus. Seeking New Space, Companies Search Far From Wall St." It quoted one real estate executive as saying, "'I'm not sure that tall trophy office buildings will ever be popular again in our lifetime anyplace in the world." Lehman Brothers was forced to evacuate its offices at Three World Financial Center and take temporary refuge in the Sheraton Manhattan Hotel until October, when it bought Morgan Stanley's Seventh Avenue tower after that company decided to disperse its staff throughout the tristate area. American Express, another longtime downtown tenant, relocated its staff to New Jersey and Connecticut after the attacks, which had badly damaged its home at Three World Financial Center. Amex's leaders, many of whom wanted to permanently leave lower Manhattan, would agree to return only if the city could provide increased New York Police Department security, including mounted police and K-9 patrol details, according to author Lynne B. Sagalyn. Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani initially balked at "demands that are entirely unrealistic," but by December 2001 had relented in the face of the economic pressure.

"They exacted security promises from Giuliani which were very hard because they were asking for special considerations that the city never gives to any one firm," says Sagalyn, author of Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan. And though Amex's return to the neighborhood has been lauded as "a decision of symbolic importance," as former New York Governor George Pataki told Sagalyn, it felt more like staunching the bleeding than a sure sign of recovery.

Enter Goldman Sachs.

"There were differences of opinion, what I was told, among the very senior executives, of whether they should move everyone to New Jersey, where they could integrate fixed-income and equity," Sagalyn notes. "[But] another higher-up said no."

In December 2003, then-Goldman CEO Henry Paulson called Pataki and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to say his company wanted to consolidate its roughly 10,000 employees in its own tower at the World Financial Center. This was a big win for the city. "It wasn't just a small business. It was the investment bank. It was the stellar investment bank," Sagalyn says.

For Goldman, sentimentally, this would let the company stay in the neighborhood it had called home for more than 135 years and, more practically, to build vast trading floors of "about 75,000 square feet, which is huge," Sagalyn notes. And perhaps most important, Goldman wanted total oversight. It resisted strong pressure to move into one of the World Trade Center sites, partly for security reasons, but also so it could "control [its] own destiny," Sagalyn says.

Almost immediately, the plan ran into trouble. Bank leaders were concerned about the lack of coordination by local government agencies on security, but also on a proposed state plan to build an $860 million tunnel that would run right below its front door. The bank feared that the impact of an explosion would be amplified in the tunnel and could level surrounding buildings, according to Sagalyn. Goldman issued an ultimatum: Abandon the tunnel, or they'd walk.

A Goldman-imposed deadline to resolve the tunnel issue came and went, and Paulson suspended the build while the bank looked for another home in the borough. Government officials couldn't believe it. "They were appalled. They were just stunned," Sagalyn says. "Lots of firms call the government's bluff, but you know, Goldman doesn't bluff in this kind of situation," she explains.

Fearing Goldman's move would scare off other would-be tenants, the government gave up on the tunnel and quickly sweetened the deal with a slew of benefits, including various tax breaks and $1.65 billion in Liberty Bonds, a federal tax-free bond program established in 2002 to spur lower Manhattan's rebuild after the terror attacks. Goldman demanded that the government develop a security plan for the area. It even baked terms into its lease, creating financial incentives for the bank. If the plan never materialized, about $321 million would be returned to Goldman — about $160 million in taxes on materials it would pay into an escrow account and $161 million for its lease of the land.

"We recognize that Goldman Sachs, as well as other relevant stakeholders, should be included in this process," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly wrote to Goldman executive vice president Edward Frost in July 2005. "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. This will ensure maximum communication and coordination in case of any event."

In November 2005 construction finally began. "With this new building, Goldman Sachs is making the kind of commitment that ensures that lower Manhattan will remain a center of global commerce in the 21st century," Bloomberg said.


Although the public may have lauded political leaders' moves to keep Goldman Sachs downtown, most were largely in the dark about the huge financial tripwires they'd ceded to the banking behemoth. In Goldman's eyes the financial incentives baked into the lease agreement were both a sign of how deadly serious the bank was about its own protection and a two-pronged monetary cow prod to motivate government officials.

But that's not how The Daily News saw it when, in 2008, it broke the story that Goldman was expected to recoup that $321 million as various officials and law enforcement agencies wavered on a security plan for the neighborhood.

"The bottom line: The $321 million bonanza in tax and lease payments could soon revert to the Wall Street powerhouse, which piled up $11.6 billion in profits last year," the News'  Douglas Feiden wrote.

The tabloid coupled the scoop with a damning editorial blasting the government as "desperate" and "foolhardy" for ever taking such a crummy deal — and the bank for asking for it at all.

"New York State cannot afford such losses," the News insisted. "[The government] must dig taxpayers out of this very deep hole, and Goldman, in keeping with good corporate citizenship, must relinquish its claim to the money."

The tabloid argued that Goldman didn't need the cash and that to take it would be a public relations nightmare. In October 2009 the bank announced earnings of $3.19 billion for the previous quarter, and the newspaper said CEO Lloyd Blankfein was "riding the crest of cash."

The News continued, "That's a big hint to Blankfein: Be a good (and very rich) corporate citizen. Forswear all penalties that the bank is due," the paper wrote. "It would be only a hiccup in Goldman's billions, but it would show that they won't profit at the public's expense."

The bank ultimately relented given the public outcry as well as government assurances that it was close to a plan, forfeiting about half the penalties.

The NYPD plan for the area, laid out in an 834-page environmental impact study released in August 2013, describes a sleek urban fortress hiding an array of defenses in plain sight. It includes 11-foot-tall guard posts, "multiblock security zones," various bollards and barriers, and more. The need for such fortifications was expected to intensify by 2019 as more people returned to the area. There'd be such a heavy NYPD presence, the department promised, that there would be a "virtually instantaneous police response under future conditions." (Goldman also pays the NYPD for a uniformed detail of off-duty officers as part of a program many businesses throughout the city use.)

Though Goldman may have been satisfied with the new precautions, locals weren't. Twelve of them, under the name WTC Neighborhood Alliance, sued the NYPD, saying its plan would place them in "fortresslike isolation . . . as impervious to traffic as the Berlin Wall." The lawsuit appears to have died in early 2014, when a judge ruled that the plaintiffs didn't meet the requirements for an injunction on the security plan. 


Back in 2012, as Hurricane Sandy's floodwaters darkened lower Manhattan, Goldman glowed. The company, which had installed generators in its headquarters and other critical buildings, was criticized for somehow getting special treatment. The storm hit, after all, in the season of Occupy Wall Street. But the episode was simply an example of how the bank was just as committed to protecting things within its walls as to guarding against threats from without, Blankfein argued at the annual Business Book of the Year awards at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

"We learned a lot from 9/11, so when we built our building, we built it with a lot of redundancy and a lot of backup power, and obviously invested a lot in testing and preparation and resilience in planning," Blankfein said that night, according to New York magazine. "And I tell you, the day before the hurricane, we put 25,000 sandbags around our building and the front of our building looked ridiculous, but it worked."

He added, "We were lucky. We were in the heart of the flood zone, and I'm not going to take it that someone is going to scorn us for doing what we did. We worked hard and did sensible things. And by the way, having done that, it put us in a position to help other people in the neighborhood."

For Goldman, security means not just protection from a bomb, but also the ability to keep things humming 24/7, according to Sagalyn. "Security is a bigger concept for a firm like that, that does global business, than it is for the average person who thinks of security in terms of counterterrorism," the author notes, adding, "If the bank did not do something like have redundancy or have security with their global business, there would be questions about 'Was the board asleep?' Of course they had to have it."

When asked to elaborate on Blankfein's comments and other security precautions Goldman takes, Tiffany Galvin, a spokeswoman, demurred. "We have business continuity plans in place (as I imagine all the other banks do as well) that help us prepare and respond to a variety of situations, including terrorist threats and natural disasters," she said. She added that Goldman has close ties to local law enforcement but declined to say more, citing security concerns.

But public documents on Goldman's website show a global web of teams, redundancies, and failsafes that are regularly tested, tweaked, and added to as new threats emerge. Here again, 9/11 changed everything.

"9/11, I think, made a lot of people realize we have a lot more work to do," says David Strumpf, who joined Goldman's business continuity team in 2005. Many companies, especially those in the Northeast, began spending more on risk management and insurance. In 2003 the federal government issued an interagency paper outlining a slew of "sound practices" necessary for financial firms to adopt to gird against American economic collapse.

"What the interagency paper said was basically, 'Okay, clearing, settling, and funding are your most critical functions, and every significant bank needs to prove that they could do that within two to four hours under almost any circumstances.' That set the bar really high," adds Strumpf, who now works for Promontory Financial Group. 

A Goldman business continuity plan put out in January of this year reads like a nightmare, roughly summed up as: a network of crisis managers around the world; developing the continuity plan itself; a robust and dispersed tech infrastructure with uninterruptible power that regularly backs up critical data; plans to resume work after an event, including "redundant work environments"; regularly testing the entire plan and fixing things that need fixing and adding things that need adding.

"One of the inherent challenges is everything changes. What is a risk today probably might not have been in existence ten years ago. For example, pandemic flu. Prior to 2009 no one really thought of it as a significant risk — or at least not to the extent that it became," notes Strumpf, who was the global project manager for Goldman's pandemic flu preparedness program.

To Strumpf the best way to stay ready amid business changes is to run regular tabletop exercises with key decision makers at a company and go over even the most minute decision they might encounter in a crisis.

"Most folks don't realize what might take you 30 seconds in peacetime might take you 20 minutes during the 'fog of war,' and that's 20 minutes you don't have. The key to a defense strategy is developing the muscle memory," explains Strumpf. "In order to develop a [good practice] scenario, you have to ask the question, 'What keeps you up at night most?'"


One thing not mentioned in Goldman's public plan, but alluded to by its spokeswoman, is the bank's close ties to local law enforcement — a relationship that, for many firms, has grown stronger in the wake of 9/11.

Goldman is part of two NYPD efforts: NYPD SHIELD, an information-sharing program, and the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, a robust network of cameras. It also donates to the New York Police Foundation, an independent nonprofit that stations NYPD officers to gather intelligence and build relationships around the globe. 

"Before 9/11 the NYPD had an intelligence program, but it was largely aimed at protection of dignitaries or other things like that," says Naval Postgraduate School professor Erik Dahl.

But after the attacks the NYPD invested heavily in counterterrorism, including these programs, which took the unique approach of enlisting the private sector in the fight, experts say. "The NYPD knows it's vital that they develop great relationships with the businesses and industries in New York City, and certainly the financial sector is such a key part of that," Dahl notes.

This marked a key shift in law enforcement's relationship with the private sector. Through SHIELD, a membership organization, those enlisted can get training in best practices, receive alerts about events around the city, and attend regular briefings, none of which had been done before. (Institutional Investor filed a Freedom of Information request on March 5 to see alerts about Saipov's attack; it was denied on March 12 because the case is still open, as was an appeal of that decision made three days later.) 

But the real benefit of SHIELD was the human touch in those briefings. "[Now] they knew the point of contact, and there was a relationship that developed between individuals within SHIELD and the security operation of the businesses. Before that, believe it or not, that never existed, really," says William Crosbie, who wrote his Naval Postgraduate School thesis on SHIELD in 2008 while he was chief operating officer of Amtrak. "From the eyes of the folks around that table, you could see that was really important to them. They had a personal contact that they could go to and say, 'Look, we've seen this a few times.' And it was taken in as important," adds Crosbie, who now works for Parsons Corp., a California-based engineering and technical consulting firm. 

Similarly, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, launched in 2005, incorporated security cameras from companies like Goldman Sachs into a network feeding back to the NYPD of license plate readers and other surveillance devices, like those that watched Saipov carry out his Halloween attack. In 2008 the Times said there'd be 3,000 cameras when the program was fully funded. 

At this point it's difficult to say how many surveillance devices there are and where they're positioned. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued both the NYPD and the Department of Homeland Security, which helped fund the program, to find out, but was rebuffed in 2011 when a federal judge ruled that revealing that information would be harmful to security efforts.


Today Sayfullo Saipov awaits trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — just over half a mile from where his attack ended — the onetime home of El Chapo, Bernie Madoff, and countless other criminals. Saipov's legal team has lately been trying to delay his trial so they can translate and review all the evidence the government gathered on their client. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs' tower stands tall as security swarms below it, guarding against a changed world.

"We live in a post-9/11 world in which every day poses a security threat," says Sagalyn. "This is the world we live in. It's hard to escape this world."