View Full Version : Chertoff Evokes 9/11 In His Katrina Defense

02-16-2006, 02:05 PM
Chertoff Evokes 9/11 in His Katrina Defense
The Homeland Security chief comes under sharp criticism while testifying to a Senate panel and in a House report titled 'A Failure of Initiative.'


(Gold9472: The excuse for all occasions. Now you tell me... who benefitted from 9/11?)

By Johanna Neuman and Nick Timiraos, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Embattled Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testified Wednesday that he did not take charge of his department's faltering response to Hurricane Katrina because his personal experience during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had convinced him that micromanaging by senior officials could make matters worse.

But members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has spent months investigating the disaster, sharply criticized Chertoff for being so out of touch with the unfolding disaster that he went to bed unaware that the New Orleans levees had collapsed hours before, killing and injuring hundreds of people and leaving much of the city under water.

Committee chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said it was disheartening that Chertoff was "consistently behind the curve." Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29 and a storm surge smashed the New Orleans levees later that day. Chertoff said he went to sleep that night not knowing his department had been informed of the levees' collapse.

Chertoff, who testified for about three hours, acknowledged that his department had received e-mails describing the unfolding catastrophe, but he said his staff decided to withhold information from him until it had been verified by what he called "ground truth" — again because of his experience during the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, when top officials were bombarded with imprecise data and unchecked rumors. He said he has since taken steps to make sure that would not happen in the future.

In the months after Katrina, criticism of the botched federal response focused primarily on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director, Michael D. Brown, who resigned under fire. FEMA is part of the Homeland Security Department, and as investigators have dug deeper, the spotlight has shifted to Chertoff because he did not step in despite signs that the response was going awry.

Although Chertoff was hailed as a brilliant choice in mid-January 2005 when President Bush picked him to head the department and he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate about a month later, the criticism of his conduct during Katrina has become so pointed that a House special investigating committee titled its 600-page report "A Failure of Initiative." It chided Chertoff for being too passive. The report was released Wednesday, though many of its findings had been reported earlier.

In its opening pages, the House report ticked off a succession of steps Chertoff "should have" taken before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and after the government began to stumble. Most if not all of the steps, the report said, were part of elaborate procedures that had been developed for responding to disasters.

The House report was especially devastating for Chertoff and the Bush administration because it was written largely by Republicans — Democrats boycotted most of the committee's sessions — and because it painted the government's failures with a broad brush. "Secretary Chertoff failed to take the reins from him [Brown] quickly enough," committee chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said. "The White House failed to act on the massive amounts of information at its disposal."

On the Senate side, Collins particularly criticized Chertoff for waiting until after the disaster had struck to designate a point person to manage the federal response, as called for in the government's advance plan. "That's like having the generals show up after the battle had already begun," Collins said.

Chertoff said he had thought FEMA knew more about dealing with hurricanes than anyone else in government.

Questioned on his failure to work closely with FEMA, Chertoff said he knew his relationship with Brown was strained, but said it had never occurred to him that Brown would deliberately ignore the secretary and established procedures for coordinating the response.

Brown testified last week that he felt it would "waste my time" to consult with Chertoff.

"If I knew then what I know now about Mr. Brown's agenda, I would have done something different," Chertoff said.

In explaining why he had not been proactive, the secretary recalled that he had been serving as assistant attorney general for the criminal division of the Justice Department when terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. "I was on duty on 9/11," he said.

After the attacks, he said, high-level bureaucratic infighting hampered efforts to deal with the attacks and pursue the perpetrators. He said he was trying to avoid that mistake with Katrina. "I didn't want to get in their hair," he said of FEMA and other operations managers.

Chertoff also attributed his policy of limiting the flow of information to senior officials to his Sept. 11 experience.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), citing a chain of e-mails about flooding in New Orleans, asked why the messages "never got to you" and why no one was being "held accountable for failing to do what they were supposed to do?"

Chertoff said that his top coordinators at the department's operations center wanted to make sure the information they forwarded to him had been substantiated.

He said he understood the actions of subordinates who held back unconfirmed reports because of his experience in September 2001. "I've been through the fog of war on 9/11. There were unbelievable rumors of bombs on Washington…. It all had to be run down before being communicated with higher-ups," he said.

At the start of the Senate hearing, Collins expressed incredulity at the "late, uncertain and ineffective" Homeland Security response to Katrina. "If our government failed so utterly in preparing for and responding to a disaster that was long predicted and imminent for days," she said, "we must wonder how much more profound the failure would be if a disaster were to take us completely by surprise, such as a terrorist attack."

Afterward, asked whether Chertoff should resign, Collins said: "I'm very disappointed in the lack of focus and the leadership of Secretary Chertoff with respect to Katrina. Having said that, however, the secretary is an enormously talented individual who has conceded flaws in the response and I believe that he is completely committed — committed beyond any other person in the federal government other than the president — to improve the response."

The House report said FEMA was in such disarray that it could not keep track of supply requests, and distributions were not logged, so needed supplies and equipment were "delivered late or not delivered at all."

Many other institutions, including the Red Cross and the national news media, also came in for criticism, as did visiting celebrities such as Sean Penn and Oprah Winfrey.

"Several elected officials from the state and national levels showed up" in the federal Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge, La., the report said. "While they just wanted to see what was going on and were trying to help, their presence distracted the EOC personnel…. Most visits by elected officials and celebrities had large media crews covering them, further distracting the EOC personnel from their more urgent tasks."

Uber Commandante
02-16-2006, 04:34 PM
Chertoff: "Senators....Congressmen..and ladies..given my experience with 9/11 when many unfounded and erroneous rumours were flying about, I decided that, with Katrina, rather then act upon something that might be based on wrong information, I would instead do nothing. Nothing, ladies and gentlemen, is always the wiser course of action, and the course set by all aspiring politicians"

Congress: 'hear hear...Well said. Mr Chertoff - 9/11 was, indeed, a wake up call for us to do nothing. Truly, we have done nothing best of all!. Why don't you join us in the back room and we'll let the lobbyists jerk us off".

02-16-2006, 04:36 PM
Funny, but I hate fixing your spelling errors.

02-16-2006, 04:41 PM
Call me obsessive compulsive.

02-16-2006, 04:43 PM
Actually... that's pretty fucking funny Uber... your analogy describes exactly what he did.