Panel Questions Response to 9/11 Attacks in New York
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani testified Wednesday that New York officials likely would not have changed security priorities even if they had known about an Aug. 6, 2001 White House briefing paper warning of possible terrorist attacks in the United States.
The intelligence briefing, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” referred to evidence that terrorists were casing buildings in New York City as possible targets.
Giuliani said the briefings he received from federal officials indicated that New York’s bridges, tunnels and subways were more likely targets, according to the Associated Press.
His testimony was interrupted several times by family members of Sept. 11 victims shouting, “One-sided!” and “Put us on the panel!” One woman yelled, “My son was murdered!”
Two audience members were removed from the room, including a longtime Giuliani adversary, who jumped from his seat and shouted, “Three thousand people are dead! They were not killed because he’s a great leader. … Let’s ask some real questions!”
Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also testified at Wednesday’s hearing.
The commission’s hearing on Tuesday focused on New York City’s emergency crews’ response to the World Trade Center attacks.
A preliminary report from the panel said poor planning, malfunctioning equipment, communication problems and longstanding rivalries between agencies hindered response efforts.
“I think the command and control and communications of this city’s public service is a scandal,” said commission member John Lehman, a Republican and former Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. New York’s emergency response plans were “not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city.”
His assessment evoked some strong responses from those testifying.
Thomas Von Essen, the city’s fire commissioner during Sept. 11, said, “You make it sound like everything went wrong on Sept. 11. … I think it’s outrageous that you make a statement like that.”
In response to the panel’s pointed questions, current and former leaders of the city’s police and fire departments and the Port Authority Police Department defended their performance, sometimes angrily, according to The New York Times.
At the emotional eight-hour hearing held in Manhattan, the commission also presented a minute-by-minute multimedia account of what happened that fall day, emphasizing the heroism and horror, as well as the errors.
A written report listed technical and organizational obstacles to the emergency response work of police, firefighters and other rescue workers. For example, 911 operators gave contradictory information to some callers inside the towers on whether they should evacuate.
A repeater, which amplifies messages from the Fire Department’s hand-held radios, was abandoned prematurely by fire chiefs because it was mistakenly thought to be broken. As a result of the communication breakdown, fire commanders lost contact with units in the towers, which then never heard the call to evacuate, the Times reported.
The commission pointed out that because of a lack of timely information, the decision was made to dispatch new fire units to the South Tower after it was hit by the second plane, rather than reassigning some units from the North Tower, delaying the response, according to The Washington Post.
Some panel members also criticized an emergency response plan issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week as simply codifying a dysfunctional system in which the police and fire departments wrangle over control at scenes of disaster.
Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton described the plan as a “prescription for confusion,” according to the Times.
On Sept. 11, 2,749 people, including 343 firefighters and 23 police officers, died when hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania.