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Bloomberg defends threat response

New York, Washington disagree on subway alert
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks with a passenger as they ride the subway Thursday.



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NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday stood by his decision to increase security after information from the FBI revealed a "specific threat" against the city's subway system, despite intelligence officials saying the information was not credible.

"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. "We believe that there is some credibility to this and if I'm going to make a mistake, you can rest assured it is going to be on the side of being cautious."

At the same time, Bloomberg encouraged people to ride the subway, as he did coming into work Friday morning to show his confidence in the city's security.

Bloomberg made the statements shortly after police reopened parts of New York's busy Penn Station that had been closed at the height of morning rush hour when a suspicious substance was found near Amtrak's ticket counter.

The apparent hoax involved a soda bottle filled with a "Drano-like substance," according to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The scare came a day after authorities warned of a possible terror threat against the city's subway system. (Related story)

'Specific but not credible'

An official from the Department of Homeland Security told CNN the agency had received intelligence regarding "a specific but not credible" threat to the subway system "in recent days."

The official said the intelligence community concluded the information was of "doubtful credibility."

Despite the credibility question, DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said the department supports Bloomberg's decision.

"He has to make the decisions he deems appropriate for his community, and we recognize that New York operates under a high level of security," Knocke said.

Asked if he thought New York officials overreacted to the threat information Thursday, President Bush said Friday, "I think they took the information that we gave and made the judgments they thought were necessary."

Bush said, "The level of cooperation between the federal government and the local government is getting better and better, and part of that level of cooperation is the ability to pass information on. We did and they responded."

A Bush administration official said the threat to New York's subway system involved the use of explosives hidden in baby carriages, but added that he believes New York officials made the threat public, "out of an abundance of caution."

Bloomberg said the threat was "more specific as to target, timing," and "not the kind of thing that appears in the intelligence community every day."

Information from Iraq

Law enforcement sources told CNN the threat information was passed along after an individual in Iraq took a polygraph test and, although he failed some sections of the test, passed the section pertaining to the information about the New York threat.

That information led to a military operation in Iraq Wednesday night, which resulted in the arrests of three al Qaeda suspects in Musayyib, sources in Iraq told CNN Friday.

The law enforcement sources said the information garnered from the individual's lie detector test claimed plans were under way to attack mass transit in the New York metro area, and that a group of 15 to 20 people were in the United States to carry it out.

The sources said they could not corroborate the information, which, they confirmed, involved hiding explosives in baby carriages. The plan was not deemed viable, they said.

Bloomberg said no arrests have been made in New York in connection with the threat. He also said he couldn't characterize the threat as coming from any ethnic group.

"It originated from overseas, and we have to leave it at that," he said.

Police paying extra attention

Authorities said police will be paying extra attention to items brought on to subway trains, including strollers, luggage, briefcases and other containers. Kelly advised riders not to take such items on board, if possible.

The police chief said that although the threat could not be corroborated, it was sufficient for police to heighten security for the transit system, which carries about 4.5 million passengers on an average weekday.

New York has 26 subway routes and 490 stations, covering 660 miles of track. There are about 6,400 cars.

Spokesmen for New Jersey transit systems and Amtrak said they remained on a heightened state of alert, as they have been since early July.

Bloomberg said New York will remain on "orange" alert, the second-highest level, indicating a high risk of terror attack. New York has been on orange alert since the color-coded warning system was established after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"We ask that the public remain vigilant. If you see something, say something," the mayor said.

CNN Producer Allison Gilbert, Assignment Editor Rob Frehse, Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve, National Security Correspondent David Ensor, Correspondent Adaora Udoji and Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

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