Homeland Security downplays N.Y.C. threat
City officials raise security on subways in response to ‘specific threat’


Updated: 8:17 p.m. ET Oct. 6, 2005

NEW YORK - Authorities stepped up security Thursday after receiving what city officials called a credible threat that the New York subway could be the target of a terrorist attack in coming days. But Homeland Security officials in Washington downplayed the threat, saying it was of “doubtful credibility.”

Despite the differing takes on the seriousness of the threat, New York officials mobilized police officers to begin looking through commuters’ bags, briefcases, baby strollers and luggage.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it the most specific terrorist threat officials had received to date. No one in New York had been arrested or detained, he said during a nationally televised news conference alongside Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

“We have never had before a specific threat to our subway system,” Bloomberg said, adding that he still felt secure enough to take the subway home Thursday night. “Its importance was enhanced above the normal level by the detail that was available to us from intelligence sources.”

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the threat was “specific to place, time and method,” which was a bombing. The official said the information resulted from the arrest of al-Qaida operatives in Iraq.

A U.S. official told NBC News that the intelligence source also provided the U.S. military and FBI with tips that led to a military raid in Baghdad overnight that nabbed at least one terror suspect.

Homeland Security: ‘Doubtful credibility’
But in Washington, Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said “the intelligence community has concluded this information to be of doubtful credibility. We shared this information early on with state and local authorities in New York.” Knocke did not elaborate.

A counterterrorism official, who was briefed about the threat by Homeland Security authorities, said the intelligence was considered doubtful because it did not reflect “on-the-ground, detailed” information. Rather, the official, who also insisted on anonymity, said the intelligence was similar to “what can be found on the Internet and a map of New York City.”

The law enforcement official in New York said that city officials had known about the threat at least since Monday, but held the information until two or three al-Qaida operatives were arrested in Iraq within the past 24 hours. Once the arrests were made, officials felt they could go public, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Authorities are concerned, the official said, that there might be al-Qaida operatives in New York City connected to the plot. They have no hard evidence of that, but are investigating.

The U.S. military spokesman’s office in Baghdad had no information on the operatives’ arrests. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had seen no indication of a U.S. military operation to round up al-Qaida suspects.

The law enforcement official said the CIA, FBI and the military were involved in the operation in Iraq.

Extra help from neighboring states
New York authorities said they wanted to leave nothing to chance in beefing up mass transit security. Gov. George Pataki said the state would call up hundreds of National Guard troops and seek help from law officers in Connecticut and New Jersey to patrol commuter trains.

Some commuters took the threat in stride. Paul Radtke, 45, of Hoboken, N.J., said he has heard similar warnings before and found it hard to take them all seriously.

“Unless it’s something dramatic that’s happening, I’ve got to go to work,” Radtke said after getting off a subway train at Penn Station. He said the only travel habit he is changing is trying not to make eye contact with police officers so they won’t search his bag.

An estimated 4.5 million passengers ride the New York subway on an average weekday. The system has 468 subway stations. In July, the city began random subway searches after the London train bombings.

New Yorkers stoic but savvy
Leila Fullerton was about to board a subway for Brooklyn after leaving work, where she had gotten word of the threat. “I’ll think about it, but I’m not scared, really,” she said.

But she added that since the London bombings in July, she has felt nervous at times and found herself scanning the subway car at times looking for suspicious characters.

“It’s a terrible feeling going down there, sometimes,” she said, gesturing at the subway stairwell.

New York City has been on high alert — or code orange — on the nation’s terror threat advisory system since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. There are no plans to raise its alert level in wake of the threat, Knocke said, nor are authorities considering changing the nationwide elevated threat level, or code yellow.

Bloomberg said there was no indication the threat was linked to this month’s Jewish holidays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.