NEW YORK - The Homeland Security Department is investigating whether department officials privately tipped off relatives or friends about last week's subway terrorism threat before the public was given the news, officials said Thursday.
The probe was announced as Gov. George Pataki and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly raised concerns about the possible leak, first reported in the Daily News.
"Obviously it's disturbing; it's just not right," Pataki said after an official appearance in midtown Manhattan also attended by Kelly. "The public should know at the same time. ... There should not be limited public notification to a handful of people, or people who might be otherwise politically connected."
The Daily News reported Thursday that police had obtained copies of personal e-mails that alluded to an alleged al-Qaida plot, and had forwarded them to federal officials.
A Homeland Security spokesman in Washington, Russ Knocke, said an internal investigation was under way. "We take any potential leak of sensitive or classified information very seriously," he said.
When FBI and police officials went public with the threat Oct. 6, Homeland Security downplayed it, saying it was "of doubtful credibility." After four days of high alert, local officials announced Monday there was no clear evidence an attack would be carried out and scaled back the protection.
"It's ironic that on the one hand the department is saying this is not a credible threat and then, if these e-mails are true, people within the department with access to classified information felt it was worth contacting their own families," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The e-mails began circulating Oct. 3 - three days before Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced they were putting thousands of extra police officers on patrol in the subways in response to the possible plot to bomb the subway using briefcases or baby strollers packed with explosives.
The Daily News quoted one e-mail - purportedly penned by the unnamed son of a high-ranking Homeland Security official - in which he warns recipients: "The only information I can pass on to you is that everyone should at all costs not ride the subway for the next two weeks in major areas of NYC."