24 May 2010
26 April 2010. Updated.
24 April 2010
The gold vault in the Federal
Reserve Bank New York is reportedly the largest gold depository in the
world. Yet compared to other major gold vaults, such as the one at Fort Knox,
it appears lightly secured. There are one or two guards at the loading dock
which connects to the vault. Because the building is located in a dense urban
area, its walls and entrances abut sidewalks without security barriers like
those at other bullion depositories. The site of the building slopes such
that the topmost levels of fve basements where the vaults are located directly
adjoins two streets, albeit there are reinforced concrete walls with steel
face plates as well as interior alarm systems protecting the hoard. (See
note below on basement levels and wall thicknesses.)
Copies of the original 1922 construction drawings of the facility, publicly
available at Avery Architectural Library, Columbia University, were obtained
by Cryptome. A floor plan of a vault level is provided below.
Key to the Gold Vault:
The gold you see in the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York attracts
more than 25,000 visitors a year. It is the worlds largest accumulation
of gold and belongs to 36 foreign governments, central banks and official
international organizations. Only a very small portion of this gold belongs
to the U.S. government. The Federal Reserve Bank does not own the precious
metal but serves as guardian for the nations and ernational organizations
that choose to leave their monetary gold reserves in the Banks custody.
It is estimated that the gold in the vault represents a significant portion
of all the monetary gold that has ever been mined.
The gold stored at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is secured in a most
unusual vault. It rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Islandone of the
few foundations considered adequate to support the weight of the vault, its
door, and the gold inside80 feet below street level and 50 feet below
sea level [See note below].
The Bank stores gold in the form of bars that resemble construction bricks
and stacks them on wooden pallets like those used in warehouses. To reach
the vault, the bullion-laden pallets must be loaded into one of the Banks
elevators and sent down five floors below street level to the vault floor.
The elevators movements are controlled by an operator who is in a distant
room and communicates by intercom with the armed guards accompanying the
Once inside the vault, the gold bars become the responsibility of a control
group consisting of representatives of three Bank divisions: Auditing, Vault
Services, and Custody. A member of each division must be present whenever
gold is moved or whenever anyone enters the vault.
Storing almost $194 billion of gold makes extensive security measures mandatory
at the New York Fed. An important measure is the background investigation
required of all Bank employees. Continuous supervision by the vault control
group also prevents problems from arising by ensuring that proper security
procedures are followed.
The Bank and its vaults are secured by the Banks own uniformed protection
force. Twice a year, each federal officer must qualify with a handgun, shotgun
and rifle at the Banks firing range. Although the minimum requirement
is a marksmans score, most qualify as experts.
Security is also enhanced by a closed-circuit television system and by an
electronic surveillance system that alerts Central Watch when a vault door
is opened or closed. The alarm system signals the officers to seal all security
areas and Bank exits. This can be accomplished in less than twenty-five seconds.
The gold also is secured by the vaults design, which is a masterpiece
of protective engineering. The vault is actually the bottom floor of a
three-story bunker of vaults arranged like strongboxes stacked on top of
one another. The massive walls surrounding the vault are made of a
steel-reinforced structural concrete.
There are no doors into the gold vault. Entry is through a narrow 10-foot
passageway cut in a delicately balanced, nine-feet-tall, 90-ton steel cylinder
that revolves vertically in a 140-ton, steel-and-concrete frame. The vault
is opened and closed by rotating the cylinder 90 degrees. An airtight and
watertight seal is achieved by lowering the slightly tapered cylinder
three-eighths of an inch into the frame, which is similar to pushing a cork
down into a bottle. The cylinder is secured in place when two levers insert
large bolts, four recessed in each side of the frame, into the cylinder.
By unlocking a series of time and combination locks, Bank personnel can open
the vault the next business day. The locks are under multiple
controlno one individual has all the combinations necessary to
open the vault.
The weight of the goldjust over 27 pounds per barmakes it difficult
to lift or carry and obviates the need to search vault employees and visitors
before they leave the vault. Nor do they have to be checked for specks of
gold. Gold is relatively soft, but not so soft that particles will stick
to clothing or shoes, or can be scraped from the bars. The Banks security
arrangements are so trusted by depositors that few have ever asked to examine
That last phrase, "so trusted by depositors that few have ever asked to examine
their gold," could suggest that the gold is not there, that it, or most of
it, and has been moved elsewhere to leave the decoy for diversion. That could
account for the light security of such great wealth.
There are reports that shortly after the attack on WTC truckloads of unidentified
valuables were removed at night under heavyily-armed guard from the basement
rubble and taken to places unknown. The threat to downtown Manhattan also
might have led to moving the Federal Reserve gold horde to a safer location
for assurance of its owners who could visit more discreetly. Whether any
of the Federal Reserve gold was stored at WTC is unanswered. Whether there
was a connecting tunnel between WTC basements and Federal Reserve basements
is unknown, although an abandoned tunnel of the Hudson & Manhattan
Railroad along that route was exposed during WTC clean-up (two photos
Tours of the gold vault were suspended after 9/11 due to security concerns
and have been reinstitued only recently. Apprehension of the foreign
gold owners about security surely outweigh all else and to leave the gold
in a vulnerable high-value target location would be hard to accept. Moreover,
as the Federal Reserve Bank states, "this is not American gold," suggesting
there are more secure places for that than the celebrated Gold Vault. A deft
ploy, nonetheless, to parade tourists through the facility for dramatic effect,
to publish "The Key to the Gold Vault," to show token displays of gold bars
and to brag of highly trained security forces for verisimilitude. A skeptical
tourist, or gold owner, might ask for a complete tour of the three basement
levels supposedly packed with foreign-owned gold. The bitter lessons in Wall
Street deception began in this very neighborhood aided by the chairman of
this very bank, now the US Treasury Secretary, abetted by light security
for fictitious wealth.
Exterior photos by Cryptome, 16 October 2009 and as noted.
Gold Vault Federal Reserve Bank
|Four numbered photos below from
Key to the Gold Vault
Basement A Partial Floor Plan
|Cryptome Note on Basement Levels and Exterior Wall
It is about 80 feet from the 1st Floor to the bottom of the five levels of
Basements A, B, C, D and E -- the lowest. However, the top vault on Basement
A is partially at street level on Nassau Street, Maiden Lane and William
Street. The employee entrance on Basement A is at street level on Maiden
Lane, some 15 feet below the 1st Floor due the site sloping from Liberty
and Nassau Streets to Maiden Lane and William Street.
Note in the drawing below, at the corner of Liberty and Williams Streets,
that Basement A exterior wall is showng about 3-feet thick, Basement B is
5-feet thick, the other three 8-feet thick. However, the drawings are not
consistent. The floor plan of Basement A (above) shows exterior walls 8-feet
thick, not 3 feet. The floor plan of Basement B shows walls 5-feet thick.
The other floor plans show 8-feet thick walls. Changes may have been made
during and/or after construction.
While the construction drawing for Basement A shows a vault it is not clear
if gold is stored there or kept on more secure lower levels. Basement B drawing,
for example, is annotated "For Future Vaults" and "Stationery & Supplies."
The most secure levels would be Basements C through E.
There was no drawing of Basement E in the Avery Library sets examined. But
the archive holds numerous drawings of the building not examined.
A distinctive feature of secure facilities is to compartmentalize responsibility,
with later work being kept secret from those doing earlier work. Security
and alarm systems installers are especially secretive about their systems
and usually work after all others have left and do not share their confidential
documents with building designers. Thus these public documents may be misleading
to divert attention from what was constructed in 1922 and modified through
Loading Docks, Basement A Level, on Maiden Lane.
Loading Docks, Basement A Level, on Maiden Lane. 22 September 2008.
Google Street View of Loading Dock, Basement A, on Maiden Lane
Employee Entrance, Basement A Level, on Maiden Lane
North Elevation (Rear), on Maiden Lane
West Elevation, on Nassau Street
Front Entrance, South Elevation, on Liberty Street. Bottom photo August 20,
South Elevation (Front), on Liberty Street
East Elevation, on William Street
Chairman Office and Board Room Floors