Replying to Giuliani
The media spin out of New York this past week was how "despicable" the Sept. 11 Commission had been in questioning the actions of the police and firemen after and during the World Trade Center attacks.
Monday, May 24, 2004
Cutting through the spin, the truth is different: No one on the commission made any negative criticism of the heroic firemen and police.
For the first time publicly, the commission questioned the actions of New York City officials, notably the then-mayor, fire commissioner and police commissioner.
The response from all three of these officials was an almost audible hiss of anger: How dare you?
The New York press, unfortunately, played its game as well. The New York Post�s Page One last Wednesday screamed outrage: "Insult � Memo to 9/11 Commission: This Man Is a New York Hero. Not a Boy Scout."
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was more measured during his testimony before the commission.
In his opening statement he said, "The blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone: the terrorists who killed our loved ones."
Giuliani is correct. The blame for the attacks should be directed at the terrorists.
But who is to blame for failing to prevent such terrorist activities?
When the U.S. government spends $30 billion on intelligence and hundreds of billions on national security, isn�t it fair that the American people have an answer to why there was such a catastrophic failure of our intelligence agencies on Sept. 11?
David Bossie�s new book, "Intelligence Failure," quotes Bill Clinton�s handpicked CIA director, R. James Woolsey, as saying that most of the blame belongs to the Clinton administration.
Giuliani could not have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, so he can hardly be blamed for them.
But Giuliani�s response was a bit of verbal legerdemain. The commissioners were questioning him and his commissioners on how they had prepared for such attacks and their aftermath.
Why did the city have such a catastrophic failure in its response that led to the deaths of more than 400 firemen, police and other emergency responders?
Giuliani says that it is unfair for anyone to criticize him and his administration because no one could have been prepared for jets flying into buildings.
But Giuliani�s defense here is only partly honest.
His administration may not have predicted the scenario as it played out on Sept. 11, but it was well aware that New York City was a potential terrorist target and that a major disaster at the World Trade Center was not only possible but likely.
In fact, in February 1993, shortly before Giuliani became mayor, the World Trade Center had been the target of a truck bomb delivered by Islamic radicals.
At the time, some experts argued that if the truck bomb had been placed just several hundred feet in a different spot in the underground garage, it would have brought down one of the towers.
Had that tower fallen, engineers had suggested, the other Tower would likely have collapsed because of their integrated structure. I was well aware of these facts before 9/11. Mayor Giuliani most certainly was.
So, considering that the World Trade Center was a target, wouldn�t it be fair to say the city would have placed extra emphasis on communication for emergency responders if there was a second attack on the same target?
Would evacuation methods be examined and practiced as well?
As it turned out, the communication failures exacerbated problems of Sept. 11 and may have contributed to additional deaths.
The radios didn�t work properly � and police and firemen could not communicate with one another.
As Giuliani explained during his testimony, the police and fire departments use different radio frequencies with different emphasis. The police receive radio calls that go long distances to a small number of recipients. The firemen use a frequency that allows many individuals to interact close up in a disaster area.
Giuliani said the radios didn�t mesh because the technology did not exist on Sept. 11.
Obviously, that is a phony answer. The greatest city in the world cannot get radios for their police and firemen that would allow them to communicate on one frequency?
The military, which has similar communication issues with a large number of personnel, has developed radios that allow communication among these personnel � as well as across military commands: Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy.
And Jerome Hauer, who served as the director of the Office of Emergency Management for Giuliani, flatly contradicted his boss.
As the New York Times noted, Hauer told the 9/11 Commission "the city had purchased radios to permit the two agencies to communicate, but had run into political problems."
The radio issue is important because, as the New York Times noted, after the South Tower collapsed orders were issued to evacuate the North Tower.
Despite the orders, some 121 firefighters died in the North Tower because their radios were not working properly.
Giuliani told the commission that these firemen had received the evacuation call but died because they decided to stay and help civilians.
But the facts tell a different story.
"For all the power of his voice and stature, however, Giuliani�s account must compete with a substantial and diverse body of evidence that flatly contradicts much of what he and his aides say happened that day, particularly on matters that could be seen as reflecting on the performance of his administration," the Times reported.
The paper continued: "On perhaps the most painful of these, the loss of at least 121 firefighters in the north tower, Giuliani suggested that they stayed inside the trade center because they were busy rescuing civilians � never mentioning that they could not hear warnings from police helicopters, that they never learned the south tower had collapsed and that they were having serious problems staying in touch with their own commanders."
Emergency Operations Center Never Used
Command and control, so crucial in a crisis, was haphazard or non-existent as the full impact of the attacks were felt.
Again, Giuliani and his administration knew these issues would be crucial if there was another attack of the 1993 level or worse.
In his testimony, Giuliani said it was not unusual to be apprised of security threats to the city on a daily basis.
After the 1993 attack, the city moved to create an Emergency Operations Center, a state-of-the-art command center that could coordinate all of the resources of city, state and federal agencies in case of disaster.
It was a prudent idea, as the city needed such a center for exactly the type of crisis that hit on 9/11.
But a little-known fact is that the city never used its Emergency Operations Center. Why?
Mayor Giuliani had decided to build the new EOC at the World Trade Center, on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, a building just across the street from the main towers. [See the diagram of the World Trade Center � Click Here]
In the mid 1990s, numerous parties, including George Marlin, then executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the WTC, urged Giuliani not to place the Emergency Operations Center at the Trade Center.
It made no sense: The Towers had already been a terrorist target. And what about having the EOC 23 floors above ground if the power went out?
In a prescient column in June 1998, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert called Giuliani�s EOC a "skybox bunker" and questioned how you could have a secure facility 23 stories above the ground, in a building shared by multiple private tenants and needing elevators.
He noted that Los Angeles had completed a similar facility underground, which, Herbert noted, was a facility "far more secure than the 23d floor of a high-rise."
As it turned out, Giuliani decided, apparently based on political considerations, to place the EOC on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center.
On Sept. 11, 7 World Trade Center and the entire staff of the EOC, including Giuliani, were evacuated after the second plane struck the North Tower.
The then-director of the EOC noted that the city could not use this center "at the moment when it was needed most." It took three days to create a makeshift center on a pier on the Hudson River.
World Trade Center 7 would still be in use today had the EOC not been placed there.
Tons of fuel stored in the basement of 7 WTC leaked out after the attacks. The fuel had been placed there for one reason: to keep the EOC and the elevators powered in an emergency.
After the attacks on the Twin Towers, these fuel tanks broke open and caught fire. Within hours, the building collapsed.
The fuel problem with the EOC was evident well before 9/11, however.
As the Times reported, "Fire Department officials warned the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1998 and 1999 that a giant diesel fuel tank for the mayor�s $13 million command bunker in 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story high-rise that burned and collapsed on Sept. 11, posed a hazard and was not consistent with city fire codes.
"The 6,000-gallon tank was positioned about 15 feet above the ground floor and near several lobby elevators and was meant to fuel generators that would supply electricity to the 23rd-floor bunker in the event of a power failure. Although the city made some design changes to address the concerns � moving a fuel pipe that would have run from the tank up an elevator shaft, for example � it left the tank in place.
"But the Fire Department repeatedly warned that a tank in that position could spread fumes throughout the building if it leaked, or, if it caught fire, could produce what one Fire Department memorandum called �disaster.�"
Certainly Mayor Giuliani offered charismatic leadership after 9/11. But his judgments leading up to the tragic day � as well as the actions of his administration in the immediate aftermath � should be questioned.
Those who question should not be demonized.
We owe much to the brave men and women who died that day.
If we fail to ask the tough questions and demand accountability from our public officials, many more lives could be lost in the next attack.
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