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NYC subway searches defended

NEW YORK -- A police official yesterday defended the city's random searches of subway riders, testifying that in the fight against terrorism, some searches are better than none at all.

In a perfect world, all the people who enter the subways would have their possessions searched, said David Cohen, New York Police deputy commissioner.

''More is better than some -- and some is better than none," said Cohen, who spent much of a three-decade career at the CIA analyzing the threat of terrorism.

The trial that got underway yesterday before US District Judge Richard M. Berman centers on a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several subway riders.

At issue are the random searches in the nation's largest subway system after deadly terrorist bombings in London's subway system in July.

The civil liberties group said in court papers that its own survey from Aug. 25 to Sept. 16 found a total of just 34 searches.

The subway system contains 468 stations serving millions of passengers.

The search program, the group said, ''has no meaningful value in preventing the entry of explosive devices into the system by the terrorists the NYPD is attempting to thwart."

The city maintains that the mere presence of a random search program, regardless of how it is administered, is a valuable tool to thwart terrorists who prefer to target vulnerable areas with a low police presence.

City lawyers have noted that an Al Qaeda training manual advising terrorists to avoid police checkpoints gives the city some justification for random searches of bags entering the subway system.

''We are confident when the judge hears the evidence, he will find that the bag searches are perfectly constitutional and designed to protect the safety of all New Yorkers and visitors," said Michael Cardozo, head of the city's law office. So far, the city has been successful in efforts to fight the lawsuit. Berman already has ruled that the city did not have to tell the civil liberties group specific information about how it conducts its random searches.

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