by Richard Pyle, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Monday it was "very, very unfortunate," if true, that federal officials failed to inform New York City of a potential nuclear threat after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Giuliani told reporters he did not know whether the claim, in the March 11 edition of Time magazine, was correct. If it was, he said, the mayor, the police department, the governor and the state police should have been notified of the threat.
"The reality is that the federal government can fully and completely trust the New York Police Department, exactly the same way as it can trust the federal government," Giuliani said. "If they would just break down some of those barriers and share information, then we're going to be a lot safer."
Giuliani called the reported communications breakdown "a learning experience, and a very difficult experience, and I don't think it should be approached from the point of view of blaming anybody."
The magazine said that the "highly classified" report was kept secret by the White House Counterterrorism Security Group "so as not to panic the people of New York" but that neither senior FBI officials nor Giuliani were told of the threat. Investigators eventually determined that the information was false, it said.
White House officials did not immediately return Associated Press telephone messages seeking comment Monday.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who succeeded Giuliani at City Hall on Jan. 1, criticized what he called federal officials' failure to alert the city.
"I do believe that the New York City government should have been told, and it was not," Bloomberg said.
He said this was the reason that police Commissioner Ray Kelly had put people into local anti-terrorism positions and was trying to improve the level of communications.
"If we got the threat, the question is then what do you do. And you cannot, every time there's a threat, suggest that everybody should be running to the bridges and tunnels to get out of Manhattan," Bloomberg said. "That would create an enormous safety issue to the city."
In the edition on newsstands Monday, Time said U.S. officials in October issued an intelligence alert to a small number of agencies, indicating terrorists might have obtained a 10-kiloton nuclear device from Russia and planned to smuggle it into New York City.
Time said such a device could kill roughly 100,000 people and irradiate 700,000 others while flattening everything within a half-mile.
Giuliani recalled that he had complained to FBI director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft that the city was not getting full cooperation in terms of information.
"They cured that, and we got very, very full and complete information from the FBI" after that, he said, "two and sometimes three briefings a day."
He continued: "There were a couple of times in which we were given warnings of the highest, highest alert. What I did do was to have, and sometimes push, the government to share directly with the police commissioner precisely what the information was, because sometimes the police commissioner can glean from the information ways in which we can set priorities."
Stressing that he was speaking in "purely hypothetical" terms, Giuliani said, "it is possible there would have been nothing we could do, except hope and pray."
Noting that Time's report said even FBI officials weren't informed, Giuliani said, "I don't know exactly what went wrong ... but I imagine, given the way the procedure was organized, had the FBI been informed, we would have been informed."
Giuliani said the report "really underscores what former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has accomplished" as the Bush administration's appointed director of Homeland Security.
"You've got to bring state and local law enforcement very much into this picture," Giuliani said. "Sometimes they can interpret or get something out of it when the people overseas or in Washington can't."
In Albany, Gov. George Pataki also called it unfortunate if the city was not notified of a nuclear threat, but he said there has been a "dramatic improvement in communications" since a state office of public security was created.
"We have had far better information flow from federal officials than we did back then," Pataki said. "That's not to say it's perfect. We're going to continue to look for better communication flow."
The state has launched a dedicated computerized communications network to relay information on terrorist threats to all local police agencies.
"The information is controlled by the federal government, and we cannot be 100 percent certain that we will be informed," Pataki said. "But we do have a far better communications link and flow of information than we did right after Sept. 11."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., told reporters in Manhattan that she was "angry" over the report that the city was not advised of a nuclear threat. She said the mayor and heads of the police and fire departments should have been told.