A police officer and a dog stand behind police lines in Penn Station in New York City
Seth Wenig  /  Reuters file
A police officer and a dog stand guard in Penn Station in New York City on Oct. 7 when part of the station was closed to investigate a suspicious liquid in a can.
msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 10/13/2005 3:48:20 PM ET 2005-10-13T19:48:20

Federal authorities on Thursday opened a criminal investigation into who wrote e-mails that warned private citizens of a possible terror threat to New York City subways days in advance of a city government decision to issue a public alert last week.

News of the probe followed a report Thursday in the New York Daily News that a "select crowd of business and arts executives" received e-mails tipping them off to a potential threat days before most New Yorkers heard about it from local officials.

NBC's Pete Williams reported that investigators were looking at the e-mails, which appear to be based on statements by government officials with knowledge of the potential threat.

A federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation, told NBC News that it was not clear whether the e-mails were written by government employees or by people who overheard discussion of the potential threat. But now, the fact there is a criminal investigation would indicate an interest in finding out whether government officials in possession of classified information were somehow involved in the unauthorized e-mail.

The Daily News reported that the city's Police Department confirmed it had learned of the e-mails on Oct. 3, three days before Mayor Bloomberg, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the FBI went public with the threat.

"I have just received a most disturbing call from one of my oldest friends from growing up in Washington," one e-mail reportedly began. "He called with a very specific caution to not enter or use the New York City subway system from Oct. 7 through 10th."

The information that led to concern about the plot to attack the subway system — using bombs hidden in briefcases, suitcases or strollers — has been largely discredited by federal officials.

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