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Context of 'November 26, 2001: New York Official Says There Will Probably Be No or Few Long-Term Health Effects for People near Ground Zero'

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Akamai’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Akamai’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Source: Akamai]In order to protect the White House website against a predicted attack by the Code Red virus, Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief, employs high-tech firm Akamai, which is run by Daniel Lewin, who will be the first person killed in the 9/11 hijackings. (Clarke and Knake 2010, pp. 112; Greenberg 4/8/2010; Greenberg 7/1/2010; Maltz 11/11/2011) Akamai was co-founded in 1998 by Lewin, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Tom Leighton, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT. Its technology enables the Internet to handle Web congestion, so content can be delivered quickly and efficiently. (Raskin 9/11/2015; High 3/25/2019) The Code Red worm was created to cause damage by conducting a “distributed denial of service” attack, which, according to Scientific American, “overwhelms a website by directing computers to deluge it with spurious connections.” (Meinel 10/28/2002) It is designed to attack the White House infrastructure on the Internet by bombarding the White House Web server with data, thereby shutting it down for hours or even days. (Leyden 7/24/2001; Reilly 8/26/2001; Roush 10/1/2003; High 3/25/2019)
Help Is Needed to Stop an Attack on the White House Website - Clarke wants help from Akamai because he has learned that 300,000 computers infected with Code Red are about to attack the White House website. (Greenberg 4/8/2010) He therefore turns up at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is the first time Akamai has dealt with him. “We did not know him, but he somehow knew us,” Leighton, who is Akamai’s chief scientist, will later remark. (High 3/25/2019) Lewin is presumably one of the people Clarke deals with during the visit since, as well as being the firm’s co-founder, as chief technology officer he “effectively ran the company,” according to Lior Netzer, one of his colleagues. (Maltz 11/11/2011) Clarke tells Akamai “that there was going to be a massive attack on the White House Internet infrastructure… and he believed that we could help him,” Leighton will recall. Akamai agrees to provide the White House with the assistance he requests. (High 3/25/2019)
Akamai Stops the Virus - The Code Red worm attacks the White House website with requests that threaten to overload its server on July 19. (Lemos 7/27/2001; Left 8/31/2001) But Akamai is able to stop the fraudulent data requests by redirecting them to Akamai servers around the world.
Akamai Has No Experience of Cybersecurity Work - It is unclear when Clarke approaches Akamai for help. The firm is enlisted by him “with just a few hours’ notice,” according to Forbes magazine. (Greenberg 7/1/2010) But Leighton will say he visits Akamai two weeks before the worm is set to attack the White House’s Internet infrastructure. It is also unclear why Clarke has chosen to go to Akamai for help since the company apparently has never previously done any cybersecurity work. Leighton will in fact say that the assistance it provides to the White House on this occasion “gave birth to our government and security business.” According to Leighton, the reason is that Clarke has “figured out that [Akamai] had a large edge network with a large number of servers close to where the users were and where the attacking bots were,” and he “felt that if the traffic was directed through us, that the network had enough capacity to filter out the attack and protect the core.” (High 3/25/2019) Ironically, Lewin will apparently be the first person killed in the 9/11 attacks. He will be a passenger on Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked, and reportedly have his throat slashed when the hijackers are taking over (see (8:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Maltz 11/11/2011; Raskin 2013, pp. 218; Leopold 9/11/2013; Leibovitz 9/11/2013)

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insists that New Yorkers living and working near the World Trade Center site are not in danger. “The vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero,” she says, repeating what earlier EPA statements have asserted. Downplaying the danger of those areas where higher asbestos levels have been found, she states—falsely (see April 18, 1989) (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) —that “EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are set many times below the level at which you would expect health impacts.” She advises New Yorkers who live or work in the affected areas to “follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly (see September 17, 2001).” (Environmental Protection Agency 11/1/2001) Another expert, Dr. Jessica Leighton, assistant city health commissioner for environmental risk assessment, similarly states that people living and working in Lower Manhattan have little to worry about. She says in response to a question whether or not “people are safe at the present level” of contamination: “As far as the science has shown us right now, that is absolutely correct.” Like Callahan, she claims that EPA standards are overly protective. “The standards or tolerance levels that are being used are very conservative,” she claims. “For example, for asbestos, we are using the standard that is used for indoor air quality for reentry into a school after asbestos removal, which is the most stringent standard, as the tolerance level or standard for outdoor air quality in the residential areas. This is also true for other substances, such as dioxins, identified at the perimeter of the site…. Moreover, these standards have been designed to include many safety factors so that acceptable levels of exposure are far below the levels at which health effects are expected to occur.” (New York City Department of Health 11/1/2001) Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, questions the accuracy of Leighton’s and Callahan’s statements and accuses them of withholding some test results. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathryn Freed, a New York City Council Member who represents Lower Manhattan, said she was not convinced by agency assurances, noting that firemen are already showing symptoms of emphysema, a terminal disease for which there is no cure. “Just because it doesn’t reach a certain level is really irrelevant when people are sick,” says Marc Ameruso, a member of the area’s community board. (Cardwell 11/1/2001)

Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., the assistant commissioner of environmental risk assessment at the New York City Department of Health, testifies before a number of committees of the New York State Assembly. She says that the department has taken a lead role in monitoring the environmental conditions near the WTC site and that there are few concerns that there will be long term effects on public health. “Some substances, such as the particulate matter from the dust or the smoke in the air, can be irritating but are not expected to have long term effects for most people,” she says. “Other substances, such as asbestos, are not expected to have short term effects, but if elevated over long periods of time can have long term effects.” (New York City Department of Health 11/26/2001)


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