Rudy's Grand Illusion

What Giuliani likes to remember about 9-11—and what he actually did (or didn't do)

By the time he wrote Leadership in 2002, he'd come up with a detailed rationale. He said the separation of command posts was "absolutely necessary" because "the Fire Department had to lead the rescue and evacuation," while the Police Department "had to protect the rest of the city." Since the departments were "performing different tasks," he argued, they had to have different command posts. Of course, the departments have some different duties in virtually all emergencies, but that reasoning flew in the face of not only all modern understanding of how to coordinate responses to epic catastrophes, but also all the plans Giuliani'sown government had put in place. If it were true that different emergency functions required a separation of command, there would have been no rationale for a coordinating Office of Emergency Management. Everybody could just do their own thing. Unified command is now such accepted wisdom that the Department of Homeland Security requires it.

And of course, as the mayor well knew, the police department was deeply in- volved in the rescue and evacuation on 9-11. That's why 23 cops died. Five emergency service units were sent in to climb the steps just like firefighters, as were other plainclothes and patrol cops. Kerik recounts in his book how "our ESU guys were pulling on their masks and marching off toward the buildings" just like the "brave firefighters."

The real, and obvious, explanation for why Giuliani left things as they were at West Street was that he was as unnerved as everyone else. The fire and police departments were acting on long-held instinct by staying apart, and the mayor shied away from interfering with men who were busy making life-and-death decisions. It was as human a response as his calming and compassionate statements later that day. But it was also a mistake with consequences, and if New York and the nation actually examined Giuliani's unified-command dysfunction that day, both might be better prepared the next time. Unfortunately, admitting all this would not square with Time's salute: "When the day of infamy came, Giuliani seized it as if he had been waiting for it all his life, taking on half a dozen critical roles and performing each masterfully. Improvising on the fly, he became 'America's homeland-security boss,' as well as its 'gutsy decision-maker' and 'crisis manager.' "

The day after: Giuliani tours ground zero with Schumer, Pataki, Clinton, and others.
photo: AP/Wide World
The day after: Giuliani tours ground zero with Schumer, Pataki, Clinton, and others.


From the book GRAND ILLUSION: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.
Copyright 2006 by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.
Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

There was another reason for the Barclay command post, and Kerik hasn't been as shy as the mayor about mentioning it: security. "I was worried about the mayor and making sure we didn't put him in harm's way," he said later. Kerik's "immediate problem" was finding space "far enough removed that the mayor wasn't in danger." As sensible as protecting Giuliani was, it's a far different explanation from the mayor's rationale for the two posts.

Whatever the mix of reasons, Giuliani has never been forced to explain, by investigators or reporters, how he squares the two-post decision with his own rules for how the police and fire departments were supposed to behave. John Farmer, the 9-11 Commission's top investigator for the city response chapter of its report, says Giuliani can't. "I don't know if he thought of it that day, but yes, it was not consistent with the protocol he established," Farmer says. "I think what he would tell you is that he thought coordination was occurring. He had Kerik with him, and the reality of these situations is that the coordination has to be not just two guys at the top; it has to be more integrated." Asked if Giuliani should be held accountable for this and other disarray that day, Farmer said, "Of course, the answer is yes. If you're the top official, you're accountable."

The 9-11 Commission members reached conclusions similar to Farmer's, but so quietly that no one noticed. The commission report never described Giuliani's step-by-step actions that day, though it chronicles just about everyone else's, and it certainly never mentioned his role in creating two posts. But when it reached its ultimate conclusion that the fire department was not "responsible for the management of the City's response as the Mayor's directive would have required," the very next line was "the command posts were in different locations." Thus, the commission's best example of the violation of the mayor's directive was the mayor's own action.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology added: "Unified command was hampered by the fire department and police department setting up separate command posts." It also found that the governing fire department protocol that day—issued in 1997 when Von Essen was commissioner—said that at a fire like this, "the departments act as 'one organization' and are managed as such." Instead of "several posts operating independently," the department circular provides that "the operation is directed from only one command post." Daniel Nigro, the only top fire chief at West Street to survive, said, "I think there should have been one command post. It should be run according to the incident command system, and that system puts one person in command and all the other agencies are there and they work from a single location."

Ray Kelly, the police commissioner who preceded and followed the Giuliani years, said in an interview, "Sure, the separate command post was a violation of the protocols. The radios would have been no problem if they had been at the same command post, if they'd been face-to-face. The Office of Emergency Management was supposed to make that happen under the protocols, but Jerry Hauer wasn't there any-more. OEM had the power to direct that to happen. Giuliani had the power to direct that to happen."

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