Rudy Giuliani's Five Big Lies About 9/11

On the stump, Rudy can't help spreading smoke and ashes about his lousy record

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and the four assistants who prosecuted the 1993 bombing said they were never asked to brief Giuliani about terrorism, though all of the assistants knew Giuliani personally and had actually been hired by him when he was the U.S. Attorney. White's office, located just a couple hundred yards from City Hall, indicted bin Laden three years before 9/11, but Giuliani recounted in his own book, Leadership, that "shortly after 9/11, Judith [Nathan] got me a copy of Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," which had warned of "spectacular terrorist strikes in Washington and/or New York" in 1999. As an example of how he "mastered a subject," Giuliani wrote that he soon "covered" Bodansky's prophetic work "in highlighter and notes."

The 1995 sarin-gas drill that Giuliani cited in his July speech was also prophetic, anticipating many of the breakdowns that hampered the city's 9/11 response. The drill was such a disaster that a follow-up exercise was cancelled to avoid embarrassment. More than a hundred of the first responders rushed in so recklessly that they were "killed" by exposure to the gas. Radio communications were described in the city's own report as "abysmal," with police and fire "operating on different frequencies." The command posts were located much too close to the incident. All three failings would be identified years later in official reviews of the 9/11 response.

Giuliani went on, in this stump speech, to list other examples of his mayoral experience confronting terrorism. There was the time, he says, "we had what we thought was a sarin gas attack." And there were also the 50th anniversary commemoration of the United Nations and the 2000 millennium celebration to contend with, times, he said, "when we had a lot of warnings and had to do a tremendous amount to prepare." And let's not forget, he pointed out, the 1997 NYPD arrest of two terrorists who "were going to blow up a subway station." Giuliani used this thwarted attack as proof of the city's readiness: "A very, very alert young police officer saw those guys," he said. "They looked suspicious, [so he] reported them to the desk sergeant. The police department executed a warrant and shot one of the men as he was about to hit a toggle switch."

Illustration by John Kascht


Additional research assistance by Benjamin Bright, Ben Greenberg, Jan Ransom, Ethan Strauss, and Tom Wiedeman.

Each of the claims in Giuliani's self-serving account is inaccurate. The supposed "sarin attack" was simply the discovery of an empty canister marked "sarin" in the home of a harmless Queens recluse. It was sitting next to an identical container labeled "compressed air" with a smiley-face logo. Jerry Hauer, the city's emergency management director at the time, was in London, on the phone with Giuliani constantly. Hauer finds it ironic that Giuliani is still talking about the incident, since they both thought it was "comically" mishandled then. "The police went there without any suits on and touched all the containers without proper clothing. They turned it into a major crime scene, with a hundred cops lining the street. Rudy at one point said to me, 'Here we have the mayor, the fire commissioner, the chief of the police department, and one of my deputy mayors standing on the front lawn of this house. Shouldn't we be across the street in case this stuff ignites?'" This overhyped emergency led to a misdemeanor arrest subsequently dismissed by the district attorney.

Similarly, the security concerns during the 1995 U.N. anniversary focused on Cuba and China and didn't involve Arab terrorist threats. The millennium target, well established at subsequent trials, was the Los Angeles International Airport, not New York. While there's no doubt the Clinton administration did put the country and city on terrorist alert for Y2K and other reasons, it was an arrest on the Washington/Canadian border that busted up a West Coast plot.

The subway bombing, meanwhile, wasn't stymied by the NYPD. An Egyptian friend of the bomber—living with him in the apartment where the pipe bomb was being built—told two Long Island Rail Road police officers about it. When the NYPD subsequently raided the apartment, they shot two Palestinians who were there—one of whom, hit five times and gravely wounded, was later acquitted at trial. No one had tried to set off the bomb at the time of the arrest, though news stories reported that; the bomber had reached for an officer's gun, according to the trial testimony. The news stories also initially suggested a link to Hamas, though the lone bomber was actually an amateur fanatic with no money and no network. As conservative a source as Bill Gertz of The Washington Times wrote that FBI counterterrorism investigators were "concerned that the initial alarmist statements about the case made by Mayor Rudy Giuliani"—apparently a reference to leaks about Hamas and the toggle switch—"will prove embarrassing."

Giuliani's terrorism biography is bunk. As mayor, his laser-beam focus was street thugs, and as a prosecutor, it was the mob, Wall Street, and crooked politicians. He can't reach back to those years and rewrite such well-known chapters of his life.


2. 'I don't think there was anyplace in the country, including the federal government, that was as well prepared for that attack as New York City was in 2001.' This assertion flies in the face of all three studies of the city's response—the 9/11 Commission, the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm hired by the Bloomberg administration.

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