One fully packed A train can hold more than 2,100 people—four times the capacity of the largest jetliner in the world and just shy of what the Titanic carried. That’s the beauty of mass transit. It’s also one reason why New York’s subway system will always be a potential terrorist target: because in addition to shutting down a system that serves millions every day and is a symbol of metropolitan living, an attack could kill a lot of people in the underground.
But this week, as was the case eight years ago, a public announcement turned that general risk into a more immediate worry.
The threat against the subway system reported by Iraq’s prime minister is apparently pretty shaky stuff, with no American agency confirming any specific intelligence. Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, who both took brief subway rides on Thursday in symbolic gestures of confidence in the system, navigated the thin line between totally dismissing the report and credulously accepting it.
Both denied that there was any credible risk … and both announced that security would be stepped up anyway. (Cuomo earlier in the week promised an increase in protective measures, citing the potential for retaliation from Islamic State militants for U.S. bombing raids.)
Have we been here before? Sort of.
In the middle of the 2005 mayoral race, just hours before a debate that Mayor Bloomberg had controversially decided to skip, he and then Commissioner Ray Kelly told New Yorkers about a threat originating from Iraq to the city’s subway system.
Then as now, intelligence officials pooh-poohed the threat from the get go. In the end, the 2005 tip turned out to be bogus.
Back then, subway bag searches, which had been launched after the transit bombings in London earlier in 2005, were stepped up and a heavier police presence was deployed to subway platforms. Now, we’ll once again see both of those measures beefed up.
At the center of the parallel between 2014 and 2004 is Brooklyn Bureau President Eric Adams.
He criticized the mayor and governor on Thursday “for missing the mark today on assuring this entire city, not just those in Manhattan, that their security is a top priority.” The outer boroughs, he said, are also at risk. “I look forward to hearing more specifics on the particular security measures that are being put in place to keep Brooklynites safe should harm come our way.”
In 2005, when he was still an NYPD captain, Adams criticized the city’s response to that Iraqi threat, saying it had been sluggish and incomplete, leading him to suspect the mobilization was a political stunt–a suspicion others had also voiced.
There was no such charge yesterday, when both the mayor and governor downplayed the threat. Cuomo, however, acknowledged that the sight of heavily-armed people on subway platforms could create more fear than assurance.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said in a media appearance on the platform at Penn Station, as the public address system warned riders to watch for suspicious behavior. “If anything, that should be comforting.”