There’s a continuing question Friday about whether any New York City subway attack was ever actually planned and, if so, how far it along it ever got. Even so, officials in Washington believe the Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right to increase security, based on what’s known about the origin of the threat.
Though some U.S. intelligence analysts consider the threat to be of doubtful credibility, Mayor Bloomberg emphasized today he had a decision to make for a city of 8 million. “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,” he said.
Law enforcement officials say the subway warning came last weekend from a long-time informant helping the U.S. in Iraq, who said chemists and pharmacists there would travel to New York through Syria, join up with terrorists already in the U.S., and attack the subway in mid-October.
The informant gave specific names, and that led the U.S. to a house south of Baghdad in Musayyib, a town repeatedly terrorized by Sunni insurgents. On Wednesday night, two of the men named by the informant were arrested there— one with documents that investigators say made references to New York City. A third was picked up today.
With those specifics, a security expert says, New York’s response made sense. “They decided this was as significant a threat as they had seen, in all the information that they’ve seen, and that’s why they went and raised the alert,” says security expert David Heyman.
And yet there were also reasons to be skeptical: Officials say the informant had warned of a dozen attack plots in the U.S. in the past. All turned out to be unfounded. Round-the-clock investigations since last weekend have found no evidence that any of the supposed plotters made it to New York.
On Friday, investigators are pursuing new leads from the arrests in Iraq. But there’s no confirmation yet that any plan of attack was in the final phase.