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Context of 'August 2004: Criticism of the Homeland Security Terror Alert System'

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Rudy Washington.Rudy Washington. [Source: Congress of Racial Equality]After being caught in the dust plume when the WTC’s South Tower collapses at 9:59, Rudy Washington, who is one of Rudolph Giuliani’s deputy mayors, heads to City Hall, where he coordinates the city’s emergency response to the attacks. He is in contact with New York Governor George Pataki, high-ranking New York Police Department officers, and Navy Admiral Robert Natter, the commander of the US Atlantic Fleet (see (Shortly After 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He orders the closing of bridges. (Though, according to some accounts, the New York Port Authority ordered all bridges to be closed earlier on, at 9:21 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) As New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch later describes, Washington also finds “heavy machinery to get downtown for the cleanup and got the Navy to guard against a seaborne attack. He evacuated City Hall, which shook like crazy when the second tower fell. He gathered people who could give medical help, gave the order to find lights that could be used at Ground Zero and worked out new phone communications, since power was being lost. Accompanied by city engineers, he went into the streets around the fallen towers, testing the ground to make sure it would hold when the heavy equipment came in.” Washington’s efforts at developing an emergency strategy are reportedly aided by what he learned at an anti-terrorist training session chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and held at the WTC, in preparation for the millennium celebration (see (Late 1999)). Stanley Crouch later credits Rudy Washington with having “ran New York for the first few hours after the attack during a period when Giuliani was thought to have been killed inside the first building that went down.” [New York Daily News, 5/20/2004] During the initial hours following the attacks, between around 9:50 a.m. and midday, Mayor Giuliani is moving around between a series of temporary command posts (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Rudy Washington, Robert Natter, New York City Police Department, George E. Pataki, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279] Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” [Salon, 3/29/2004] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” [Washington Post, 3/28/2004]
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. [Associated Press, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/28/2004] Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. [Guardian, 3/29/2004] Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” [Reuters, 3/29/2004]
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, John McCain, Karen Hughes, Philip Shenon, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Krauthammer, Laura Ingraham, Andrew Card, Ann Coulter, Wesley Clark, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Washington Times

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In early August 2004, Bush administration officials make multiple television appearances to defend increased alert levels in three cities during the previous week (see August 1, 2004). They also highlight the administration’s focus on terror threats. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says “You have to go out and warn. You have a duty to warn.” New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, appearing on the same program, says that he takes the warnings “very seriously,” adding that they “helped to make us even more alert.” However, retired General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme commander and Democratic presidential nominee, says that the way in which the warnings are used “undercut the credibility of the system.” Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says the Bush administration’s warning system is “a laughingstock” among state, local and business officials he has talked to. He says that Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge “is not a good spokesman for this issue. When he says things like ‘Here’s a warning,’ then in the next breath says the president is doing a great job, that just raises suspicions.” [CNN, 8/9/2004] Criticism of the terror alert system is wide-ranging. Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in Los Angeles, says the alert system creates “anticipatory anxiety,” in which unnecessary fear is spread among the public. Others believe that the very nature of the system is counter-productive. Robert Pfaltzgraff, a security expert at Tufts University, says that the system could alert terrorists to the information discovered by US officials and could jeopardize sources. The alerts could also be used by terrorists to mislead US officials. “Everyone is looking at truck bombs, car bombs, and suicide bombers,” says Randall Larsen, CEO and founder of Homeland Security Associates; “How about if they planned a different kind of attack?” An increase in the alert level could also be seen as a challenge by a dedicated terrorist cell. “There’s going to be a core group of people who want to do it in any event, and might even view it is a dare to see if they can actually do it,” says Juliette Kayyem, a homeland security specialist at Harvard University. “Basically it’s been a failed system so far.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, Wesley Clark, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Robert Pfaltzgraff, Robert Butterworth, Homeland Security Associates, Frances Townsend, Condoleezza Rice, Juliette Kayyem, Randall Larsen, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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