Blots on the Record

The Bloomberg administration's fight for 9-11 secrecy

The Justice Department ended up saying that only six of the histories were key to the Moussaoui prosecution. The city never presented evidence that family members were upset about the privacy implications of the documents being released (although Pete Gorman, head of the fire officers' union, tells the Voicethat some of his members did feel "betrayed" by the disclosures). And the state's highest court ultimately ruled that the dispatch tapes and oral histories had to be released. It sided with the city in keeping secret the emergency calls to the 911 lines.

Spokesmen for the 9-11 Commission and NIST say the delay in obtaining the FDNY material was not a major obstacle, and the private consultant the city hired to study the WTC response, McKinsey & Company, wrote that it had "unfettered access" to the material. But a few of the oral histories contain statements potentially at odds with what McKinsey, the commission, and NIST concluded.

McKinsey, for example, finds that "chief officers sent these units up into the building in a controlled, orderly way." But in the oral histories, Lieutenant Brian Becker recalled that it was "chaos in the lobby." Firefighter Albert Barry says his unit was told simply to "make your way up," not instructed to go to a particular floor. Chief Peter Hayden—one of those chief officers in the lobby—said, "We were losing some control of the companies coming in." And Deputy Chief Thomas Galvin says another chief was unaware even that a fifth alarm had been sent.

All three reports—McKinsey, 9-11 Commission, and NIST—conclude that some firefighters in the North Tower did not hear the order to evacuate after the South Tower collapsed or even know that the South Tower was gone. But the oral histories make clear just how bad their information was. "I heard there was collapse in the North Tower between the 68th and 70th floor," says Firefighter Michael Brodbeck. Firefighter Frank Campagna recalled that after WTC2 went down, WTC1 "was still standing. Everybody kept going up." Battalion Chief Richard Picciotto, who ordered men to leave the North Tower, even recalls hearing over the radio an order to "stand by, meaning stop the evacuation."

In one of its most important findings, the 9-11 Commission found that "none of the chiefs present believed that a total collapse was possible." It's unclear if that conflicts with what Hayden says, which is that "certainly the awareness was there of the possibility of collapse," or what Chief Al Turi remembers: "Then Steve Mosiello, Chief Ganci's executive assistant, came over to the command post and he said we're getting reports from OEM that the buildings are not structurally sound, and of course that got our attention really quick."

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