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Saturday, October 15, 2005

E-mail... The Nation's Latest High-Tech Alert System

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, issued an alert concerning a potential terrorist threat to the city’s mass transportation system on October 6, 2005. Subsequently, security measures were enacted which included an increase in NYC’s police patrols and subway passenger searches of backpacks, briefcases, and other carry on items.

During this past week the security threat has been downgraded and is currently believed to be a hoax. Initially, officials had thought that the information source was credible; although the details of the information had not been verified before the alert had been issued. Information is still being gathered concerning the details that lead up to the issuing of the security alert.

While the events that lead up to the increase of NYC subway security is still being analyzed a key component appears to be a significant player in this recent security alert. The circulation of two e-mails from two, separate Homeland Security “connected sources” appear to be the culprits which instigated the issuance of the false alarm.

Mayor Bloomberg was faced with an extremely difficult ethical challenge. Should he issue the city-wide alert before receiving confirmation from Homeland Security stating whether the threat was indeed real or not? Probably fully aware that these two reliable e-mail sources could potentially ‘cyber-travel’ the entire city in a matter of days, Mayor Bloomberg was faced with the possibilities of a city-wide panic attack and the potential hazards associated with a possible mass hysteria of over 8 million people if an official statement, alert, or public notification was not issued to help contain the situation.

New York officials feel that it is best to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to terrorist security. Senator Charles Schumer (D) of New York is quoted as saying: "We can't be too careful, and the precautions that New York City has taken are appropriate and make a good deal of sense. We cannot be in a situation where we don't turn over every stone. But the bottom line is that in the post-911 world, you can't be too careful." While the issuance of the alert has been deemed appropriate by city and state officials given the situation; the apparent leak of sensitive information is of a separate and an extremely important concern in and of itself.

This information leak additionally lends itself to a list of perhaps more unsettling questions concerning the ethical dilemma of the issuance of an alert of a possible terrorist attack. How can the information from the Department of Homeland Security be trusted, much less operate effectively, if it has internal security issues of its own? Thirdly, was the Department of Homeland Security aware of the e-mailed information leaks, and was a cover-up in the making when the department officials alerted New York’s state security directors in a conference call before the tipster’s story could be verified? Finally, do the children and families of government officials get preferential “safety tips” leaving the rest of the American Public out in the cold?

New York Subway System on Alert

New York City on Alert for Subway Attack

Hoax Probable in New York Subway Threat

Homeland Security Starts Internal Probe of Possible Leak of Terror Threat

Copy of the circulated e-mails:

I do not send out mass emails as games or jokes so PLEASE take this seriously.

As some of you know my father works for Homeland Security, at a very high position and receives security briefings on a daily basis. I received a call from him Monday Oct 3, 2005 and it was a brief call and did not contain a lot of details. The only information that I can pass on is that everyone should at all costs not ride the subway for the next 2 weeks in the major areas of NYC, that means Grand Central, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square areas. I know that seems crazy but do take his advice if at all possible. I am not at will or able to discuss anything more than that. I was not allowed to ask him any questions but he called with grave concern for the safety of myself and Heather. He said I could tell friends exactly what I have said above and that is it.

I am sorry that I cannot give any more details. He also said that he would inform me as soon as the threat at hand has passed and when we can go back to normal life.


Alarming call from Washington

I have just received a most disturbing call from one of my oldest friends from growing up in Washington, who is the chief of intelligence for the US Coast Guard and the CG's liason to the Office of Homeland Security - a person I've known for 40 years and trust implicitly and who, by dint of his position, has access to the highest level of intelligence "traffic". He called with a very specific caution to not enter or use the New York City subway system from October 7 through the 10th (Friday through Monday) based on information he has received of potential terrorist activity. He was not permitted to provide further information, but did permit me to share this information with friends and family which is what I am doing.

He had no idea what, if any, information the government may make public about the situation - it could be a great deal or it could be none. And of course we will all feel like fools if we completely disrupt our normal travel patterns for four days for nothing. But knowing the source as I do, my family will be taking this advice seriously and I share it with you to act on as you see fit.

Nothing would please me more than to think of you all laughing at me next week for crying "wolf," realizing that it means nothing untoward happened. But if you have an alternate means of moving about the city above ground for those four days, I hope very much that you will consider using it.



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