10/07/2005

Mixed Signals on Subway Threat Puzzle Many - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON - It's an unsettling problem for the public: what to think when the federal government says a scary-sounding terror threat isn't anything to worry about but local officials say it is.

The New York City subway threat was the latest example of mixed signals.

For a second day Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and federal officials offered different takes on the seriousness of a threat — picked up by U.S. authorities in
Iraq — that bombs would be placed on the subway.

The case illustrates the difficult balancing act officials face in a post-Sept. 11 world, determining when the public needs to know about a threat and when disclosure will cause unnecessary unease. Indeed, federal officials have been criticized in the past for raising the terror alert on what turned out to be questionable grounds.

Leon Panetta, a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration and a former New York official in the 1970s, said the differing views confuse the public. "I would have thought that by now they would have had a much more coordinated approach to these kind of alerts. The last thing you need is for the federal government to be saying that this kind of threat is not credible when the local government is going into high alert," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan stood by the decision of
Homeland Security Department officials to keep the subway threat private.

"In this case, we notified New York City officials early on of the intelligence information that we had received. And while it is specific, you heard our homeland security officials say it is of doubtful credibility," he said.

Bloomberg had these factors to consider: It was the first specific plot against the subways, and it came three months after suicide bombers struck London's mass transit system and just a few days after terror blasts in Bali.

"Look, it is very different being an analyst in Washington looking at data as opposed to being here in New York where you have to take responsibility to protect people's lives," Bloomberg said, defending his decision to make the threat public.

The FBI's top official in New York stood with the mayor at Thursday's announcement. And though Mark Mershon quickly noted that the information was uncorroborated, his presence at the news conference when FBI headquarters was not commenting publicly and Homeland Security officials were playing down the threat added to the confusion.

Mixed Signals on Subway Threat Puzzle Many - Yahoo! News

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