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Why the mixed signals between NYC and feds?

Rep. King and terrorism expert Emerson analyze reaction to the threat
/ Source: msnbc.com

With officials within the federal government downplaying Thursday's disclosure by New York City officials of a terrorism threat to the city's transit system, many are questioning the different messages given by local and national officials.

On Friday, MSNBC anchors Randy Meier and Amy Robach spoke with terrorism expert Steve Emerson, author of five books on the subject, and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), about the mixed signals.

"It's better to be safe than sorry. ... Whoever the spokesman is for Homeland Security is saying that 'until we can totally prove the threat, we're not going to take it seriously," King said. "What (New York Police Commissioner) Ray Kelly is staying is 'until we can disprove it, we have to take it seriously.'

"It's very seldom you're ever going to get a clear-cut case on intelligence," King continued. "What you get is you get bits and pieces, you get certain specifics and it all has to be checked out. Part of it is being checked out, but part of this still hasn't been checked out, and until all of that has been gone through, Ray Kelly is doing exactly the right thing."

Emerson agreed that New York officials had little choice but to act on the information.

"I think in this case, as I understand it, the local New York City police department actually had access to some of the raw intelligence, so they could actually, and did, make an assessment independently ... they determined it was a credible threat that needed to be acted upon," he said.

"They had no choice, given what they were facing with the raw intelligence and the specificity of the plot itself, which was very very unique in terms of what it identified as far as an attack possibility in New York in the next week."

"This is a textbook case where the U.S. government needs to speak with one voice, it shouldn't have these independent voices sniping at one another," Emerson added. "It reminds me of the bureaucratic in-fighting that existed right after 9/11."

King said he didn't understand why local and federal officials had different communication strategies in this situation, but left no doubt about which groups' advice he'd advise his constituents to follow.

"It is unsettling, but I would also say this: When there's a doubt, it's clear in my mind that I side with Commissioner Kelly. He's built up the best counterterrorism force in the United States. His judgment has been proven right time and again," King said. "He's not a headline hunter, he's not doing this to get the publicity, he's doing it because he feels very seriously about it."

Emerson said regardless of the messages sent by the actions of local and federal officials, the details of the threat, including that the plot was hatched in Baghdad, demonstrate a changing methodology by terrorists.

"It does make sense, because we know that the July 7 attacks in London were likely hatched in Pakistan. There is a universal playground for the ihadists, no longer are they carrying out attacks simply on their home turf," he said. "This is what we've learned since 9/11, and particularly in the last four months with the Bali attacks, the London attacks and now-reconstitution of al-Qaida cells which are no longer controlled by any type of international command and control."

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