NEW YORK – A Democratic lawmaker seized on a reported plot by Al Qaeda terrorists to kill thousands in the city's subways to renew his call for the Homeland Security Department to restore New York's anti-terrorism funds.
"This is just more evidence that what Homeland Security did to us was terribly misguided and just wrong," Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday after the alleged plot to spread cyanide gas in the subway was revealed. "It shows that New York is the prime target, and shows the importance of prior intelligence and of manpower."
Schumer and other New York legislators, as well as state and municipal officials, have pledged efforts to reverse the department's recent decision to cut the city's federal anti-terror allocations by 40 percent, some $83 million less than the $207 million it received last year.
The cyanide plot is described in a new book by author Ron Suskind. An excerpt of "The One Percent Doctrine" appears in the current issue of Time magazine.
According to the book, U.S. intelligence agencies learned the plan involved the use of a crude but effective device made of Mason jars that would release the deadly gas through several subway cars. The attack was called off, 45 days before it was set to occur, by Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, the book says.
Schumer quoted security authorities, "both federal and local," as saying the plan, set for 2003, was considered a valid threat.
"It came from a serious source. It was never corroborated, but it was certainly enough to be taken seriously, and law enforcement, including the Joint Terrorism Task Force, worked together, taking all the precautions," Schumer said in a telephone interview.
He said he could not vouch for all details outlined in the book but "the basic thrust of the story seems to be true. There were only inklings about it at the time."
Paul Browne, a New York Police Department spokesman, said Saturday that authorities had known about the planned attack. "We were aware of the plot and took appropriate precaution," he said.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the bureau would have no comment on the excerpted material. On Sunday's CBS' "Face the Nation," White House press secretary spokesman Tony Snow said: "I don't want to confirm or deny this particular story."
The book says U.S. officials had discovered plans for the device in the computer of a Bahraini arrested in February 2003, and were able to build a working model.
Shown the model, the author says, President Bush ordered government alerts, and when reports said al-Zawahri had canceled the plan, Bush worried that something worse — an attack even more destructive than the Sept. 11 attacks — might be coming, according to Suskind.
The plan to attack the New York City subway system was one of at least four that were exposed or reported in the past decade.
To increase security, more than 1,000 surveillance cameras are now in use, with 2,000 more planned by 2008 if the funds are available to install them. The recent cuts by Homeland Security may force a freeze on other city surveillance camera plans, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said.
Over the protests of some civil rights advocates, police subject passengers to random searches of bags and backpacks. Until means are developed for detecting chemical, biological or nuclear substances, Schumer said, "intelligence is the only way of finding out ahead of time if a threat exists."