In a recent broadside deriding the Clinton administration’s response to Al Qaeda, Rudy Giuliani told an audience at Pat Robertson’s Regent University: “Bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it. I thought it was pretty clear at the time, but a lot of people didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.” Other tenets of his standard stump speech include the assertion that he’s been “studying terrorism” for more than 30 years, and that “the thing that distinguishes me on terrorism is that I have more experience in dealing with it” than the other presidential candidates.
However, in private testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Rudy gave a very different version of how much he knew about terrorism when the World Trade Center was attacked. That testimony isn’t scheduled to be released publicly until after the 2008 presidential election, but the Voice has obtained a copy of it. And it reveals a New York mayor who was anything but an “expert on terrorism.”
A 15-page “memorandum for the record,” prepared by a commission counsel and dated April 20, 2004, quotes Giuliani conceding that it wasn’t until “after 9/11” that “we brought in people to brief us on al Qaeda.” According to the memorandum, Giuliani told two commission members and five staffers: “But we had nothing like this pre 9/11, which was a mistake, because if experts share a lot of info,” there would be a “better chance of someone making heads and tails” of the “situation.” (Such memoranda are not verbatim transcripts of the confidential commission interviews, but are described on the cover page as “100 percent accurate” notes taken by staffers, stamped “commission sensitive/unclassified” on the top of each page.)
Asked about the “flow of information about al Qaeda threats from 1998-2001,” Giuliani said: “At the time, I wasn’t told it was al Qaeda, but now that I look back at it, I think it was al Qaeda.” He also said that as part of one of his post-9/11 briefings, “we had in Bodansky, who had written a book on bin Laden.” Giuliani was referring to Yossef Bodanksy, the author of Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, which was published in 1999 and predicted “spectacular terrorist strikes in Washington and/or New York.” Giuliani wrote in his own book, Leadership, that Judi Nathan got him a copy of Bodansky’s prophetic work “shortly after 9/11,” and that he covered it in “highlighter and notes,” citing his study of it as an example of how he “mastered a subject.” Apparently, he also invited Bodansky to address key members of his staff.
Giuliani attributed his pre-9/11 shortcomings in part to the FBI, which was run by his close friend (and current endorser) Louis Freeh, and to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, an FBI-directed partnership with the NYPD. “We already had JTTF, and got flow information no one else got,” he explained. “But did we get the flow of information we wanted? No. We would be told about a threat, but not about the underlying nature of the threat. I wanted all the same information the FBI had, and we didn’t get that until after 9/11. Immediately after 9/11, we were made a complete partner.” He added: “Without 9/11, I never would have been able to send an adviser to FBI briefings.”
Tom Von Essen, who was Giuliani’s fire commissioner and is now a partner in his consulting company, Giuliani Partners, was asked at a confidential interview on April 7, 2004, what information he had “re terrorism prior to 9/11” and said: “I was told nothing at all.” Bernard Kerik, the police commissioner on 9/11, who also later joined Giuliani Partners, appeared to contradict Giuliani, insisting in his April 6 private appearance: “I never had a problem with the FBI.” Kerik, who did not become commissioner until August 2000, testified, however, that he did have a problem with his own department. “When I took over,” he said, “I was not happy with NYPD’s intelligence in general.” He said the intelligence division “had more to do with fighting criminal activity than terrorism” and that “within 3-4 months, I directed a total merger of NYPD intelligence.” In other words, Kerik indicated that he’d begun a reorganization of the department’s counterterrorism intelligence operations in 2001, as the Giuliani administration entered its final year—hardly a testament to its urgent understanding of the threat.
Despite conceding his lack of information to the 9/11 Commission, Giuliani recently told New York Times Magazine reporter Matt Bai that he wished he could discuss “all the things he knew about terrorism,” but that he “could not, unfortunately, share” this information with Bai “because they probably remain classified.” Giuliani went on at great length in Bai’s cover story—as he has repeatedly on the campaign trail—about how, as president, he would apply CompStat, the famous anti-crime measurement and action program instituted at the NYPD during Giuliani’s mayoralty, to the fight against terrorism. Bai called Giuliani’s argument an “impressive case.”
Compare that to Giuliani’s response when he was asked by the 9/11 Commission if CompStat could be used as a “resource in the war on terror.” He replied: “Bernie knows more than I,” referring the commission to Kerik, who became President Bush’s nominee for Homeland Security secretary a few months later. According to the commission’s memorandum, Giuliani also urged them to “talk to the current NYPD re current terrorism Compstat,” a reference to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Though Giuliani thought the application of CompStat to terrorism was “an excellent idea,” he offered no suggestions of his own.
Twice, Giuliani dodged the commission’s questions about the radios used by first responders—one of the key critiques of the city’s 9/11 response made by New York and national firefighters’ unions. The city’s firefighters were stuck with the same analog radios that had malfunctioned in 1993, when the World Trade Center was first attacked, because the department had had to recall newer digital radios in the spring of 2001. Pressed about this nearly three years after 9/11, Giuliani deflected the question with a suggestion that the memorandum summarizes as follows: “Speak with Richie re whether digital would have worked better.” Giuliani was referring to Richard Sheirer, the former director of emergency management, who had virtually nothing to do with the selection of the firefighters’ radios (and who, like Von Essen, is also now at Giuliani Partners). Sheirer had already appeared before the commission and was questioned, appropriately, about his own agency’s radios, not the fire department’s. He declared that their radios “worked very well” on 9/11, “allowing me to communicate” with the command center, though the bunker was actually abandoned shortly after the second plane hit.
Similarly, when Giuliani was pressed about the “repeater” or amplifier that was installed at the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing to aid firefighter radio communications there, the memorandum indicates simply: “No knowledge.” Not only was this answer an indication of how little attention Giuliani paid to fire response and other security issues at the complex prior to 9/11, it was an indication that he wasn’t taking the critique of the city’s response seriously even years later. In response to a recent video released by the firefighters’ union attacking Giuliani on this issue, his campaign has been trying to shift the blame to the repeater, suggesting that it was the failure to trigger this system that caused the firefighters not to hear evacuation orders.
While candidate Giuliani has also begun blaming Sheirer’s predecessor, Jerry Hauer, for the decision to put the command center in the WTC complex, he did no such thing when asked about it during his commission appearance. He said his administration “wanted a place in lower Manhattan” and “that was probably the primary reason for it”—which is exactly what Hauer says about why it wound up there. Once Giuliani ruled that the center had to be within “walking distance” of City Hall, the World Trade Center became a likely location, since the downtown area is entirely below the flood plain, barring any below-ground site.
In his testimony, Giuliani also expressed “sympathy for President Bush being taken to task for not picking up on one detail in a briefing which in retrospect is very important when the President receives so many, many briefings.” This was a reference to the presidential daily briefing that Bush received on August 6, 2001, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” According to the commission’s final report, this briefing was the 36th related to Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda that Bush had received, but the first that highlighted an attack on the U.S. It made specific references to a “bin Laden cell in New York” that was “recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks,” and also reported that the FBI had found “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” Ironically, it was precisely this kind of information that Giuliani had complained about not receiving from the FBI just minutes earlier in the same testimony.
Though Giuliani has been presenting himself on the campaign trail as the person who can best safeguard America, he told the commission: “The only thing to protect you against terrorism is to find out about a plot in advance.” And thus far, he has presented no plausible evidence to suggest that he’d be better than anyone else running for president at doing that.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2007