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Profile: Russ Knocke
Russ Knocke was a participant or observer in the following events:
FEMA Director Michael Brown will spend today working on hurricane preparations in his office. Brown will sign off on two declarations; one releasing federal money for the response to Katrina, the other approving a similar request for money to battle a California wildfire, FEMA officials will later tell National Public Radio. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will monitor the situation from his home, according to a later statement from Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security representative. [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005]
When Leo Bosner, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist (and president of the union representing FEMA staff), returns to FEMA’s Emergency Operations Center this evening, he and his colleagues are “aghast” at the lack of preparations taking place, according to a later interview with National Public Radio: “We’d been expecting that, given our reports and so on, that there’d be some extraordinary measures taking place. So when we come in Saturday night and nothing much had happened—you know, we had a few medical teams, a few search teams were in place, but there was no massive effort that we could see. There was no massive effort to organize the city of New Orleans in an organized way that clearly had to be done. There was no massive mobilization of national resources other than the few that were out there. And I think most of us—I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I and a number of my colleagues just—we felt sort of shocked.… You assume that if there’s a fire, you’re gonna pull that lever and—someone will pull the lever, and you assume if you pull the lever that in no time these trucks and sirens are gonna come roaring up to your building and people will jump out and will have hoses and fire extinguishers and rescue equipment and things will be taken care of. Well, you sort of imagine now if your building catches fire and you pull that lever and nothing happens, the lever comes off in your hand, there’s nothing there; that’s, I think, how we felt.” Senior FEMA officials deny Bosner’s claim, although their denial reflects an expectation that state and local officials will handle the emergency. “We pleaded and informed state and local officials of the severity of this and encouraged everyone to take it seriously,” Russ Knocke, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff representative, will later contend, after asserting that, “Without question, there was a significant amount of recognition and appreciation for the magnitude of this storm.”
[National Public Radio, 9/16/2005]
In a subsequent interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown will state that by this evening, he is calling the DHS and White House to report that the emergency response is in chaos. Reportedly, in a status call with Washington, Brown reports that Governor Blanco’s office is “proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort.” (Bob Mann, Blanco’s Communications Director flatly denies Mr. Brown’s description: “That is just totally inaccurate. Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him.”) Brown also reports that his field officers are reporting an “‘out of control’ situation” in New Orleans. According to Brown, he informs the White House early and repeatedly that state and local officials are overwhelmed and that the response is going badly, saying a dozen times, “I cannot get a unified command established.” The White House, contend that Brown’s communications are “not filled with the urgency” that he later recalls. [New York Times, 9/15/2005] Other officials report chaos within FEMA’s Washington headquarters. It becomes “a zoo” at the height of the disaster, according to one longtime FEMA official. “Everything is being done by the seat of the pants,” the official will say. “It’s like reinventing the wheel. We’re starting from scratch as though no planning had even been done before.” Chertoff representative Russ Knocke, however, will insist that FEMA’s response is relying upon long-standing plans and goes “much smoother than the response to the Sept. 11 attacks.”
“Because of the National Response Plan,” Knocke will say, “‘there is no confusion, no chaos, there’s just immediate action and results.’”
[Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005]
The Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research organization affiliated with Syracuse University, has discovered that terrorism claims formed less that 0.01 percent of immigration court charges filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The immigration court records were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Of 814,073 cases brought to the immigration courts by the DHS, 12, or 0.0015 percent, were for charges of terrorism. In addition, 114 cases, or 0.014 percent, concerned individuals charged with national security violations. TRAC spokesman David Burnham says, “The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that’s just not true. Either there’s no terrorism, or they’re terrible at catching them. Either way it’s bad for all of us.” TRAC further claims that there exists an “apparent gap between DHS rhetoric about its role in fighting terrorism and what it actually has been doing.” DHS spokesman Russ Knocke calls the TRAC report “ill-conceived” and said the group “lack[s] a grasp of the DHS mission.” The DHS claims that any clampdown on immigration decreases the likelihood of terrorists entering the US. [CNN, 5/27/2007]
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