Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11: How much progress in four years? (3)

Not enough, the way I see it.  Here are some samples of the four-year anniversary evaluations:

On the fourth anniversary of 9/11, the war on terror isn't going well by John Arquilla San Francisco Chronicle 09/11/05.

Indeed, the numbers of significant terrorist attacks have increased from a little more than three dozen in 2001 to more than 3,000 in 2004, according to official statistics of the National Counterterrorism Center. The much more conservative estimate of the State Department puts last year's total above 650, still a 15-fold increase from the 2001 figure.

This is the stark reality of the intractable conflict that has come to bedevil us, this "war to change all wars."

Why has our self-styled war on terror witnessed, perhaps even sparked, an intensification of terror's war on us? Because of our reluctance to acknowledge that the true challenge in this war is organizational.

Looking outward, we have focused on fighting nation-size opponents rather than homing in on networks.

Internally, we have failed to build our own networks, preferring instead to erect enormous, dysfunctional hierarchies like the Department of Homeland Security and the National Intelligence Directorate.

This is an account of how our Homeland Security Department handled this crisis: Chronology of errors: how a disaster spread  Boston Globe 09/11/05.

Put to Katrina's Test: After 9/11, a master plan for disasters was drawn. It didn't weather the storm  Los Angeles Times 09/11/05

When it was unveiled amid fanfare in January, the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan promised "vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local and tribal organizations to help save lives" from storms, floods, earthquakes or terrorist assaults.

Hurricane Katrina turned out to be itsfirst real-world test — but the plan broke down soon after the monster winds blew in.

Its failures raise unsettling questions about the federal government's readiness to deal with future crippling disasters. An examination of how the plan was administered during the crucial early hours of this natural disaster reveal more confusion than coordination and repeated failures of leadership.

The plan on paper was not always apparent on the ground. Cooperation among government agencies faltered at almost every level, right up to the White House.

'The Big One' back on officials' minds: After Katrina, Bay Area re-evaluating its own disaster preparations Oakland Tribune 09/11/05.

Sept. 11 memories loom large in face of Gulf’s disaster: Some questioning whether lessons of 2001 attacks have been forgotten by Tom Henry Toledo Blade 09/11/05.

The finger-pointing likely will continue for years. Navy Vice Admiral John Cotton stood by the administration before a speech at Owens Community College on Thursday. He told reporters he would give the federal government an “A+” for the way it has handled the Gulf Coast tragedy.

Is he kidding?!  How could someone be that out of touch?

Toledo fire Chief Michael Bell wasn’t nearly so enthusiastic, saying he knows all levels of government can do much better. Emergency planning is only as good as it’s executed, he said.

“Sometimes, the chain of command has to get out of the way to let the work get done,” Chief Bell said.

Beth Miller, a former Maumee resident who worked inside the World Trade Center when it was attacked, may have saved the lives of trainees at Morgan Stanley four years ago today by trusting her instincts instead of the chain of command.

Ms. Miller took the trainees and left the firm’s office on the 61st floor with the group after the first tower was struck, ignoring advice to return. ...

Ms. Miller, now employed at Baruch College in New York City, said she has experienced more anxiety recently because of the Gulf Coast events.

"If [the government] is not prepared for a natural disaster, how can we have any confidence they’ll be prepared for a bomb?” she said. “I hope it’s a wake-up call for the American people that just to go with the status quo isn’t the best thing.”

9/11 set FEMA's failure in motion: Reorganization shifted its focus from disaster relief  Cleveland Plain Dealer 09/11/05)

Allbaugh and his Federal Emergency Management Agency swiftly summoned other rescue and medical teams from across the country. They so impressed the nation that three days after the Twin Towers fell, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported that FEMA "has become adept at the art of targeting resources at specific problems."

That was 2001.

Last Sunday, after New Orleans was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and swamped by flooding from busted levees, the same newspaper called for every FEMA official, including current Director Michael Brown, to be fired. On Friday, Vice Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard assumed Brown's role in overseeing the post-storm relief effort.

Little may better exemplify the changes in the nation since Sept. 11, 2001, than the circumstances behind those diametrically different views of FEMA. Some experts say the failure of FEMA in New Orleans was in many ways a direct result of 9/11.

The Bush administration and Congress created a broad, nearly $40 billion bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, to protect the nation from further terrorism. But in folding FEMA into a department with 21 other agencies, they also stretched thin its original mission and its resources.

In addition to preparing for hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural calamities, and providing the resources to help communities recover, FEMA alsowas put in charge of education and preparation for terrorist acts. The Department of Homeland Security, which opened for business in 2003, put its heaviest focus on the latter. (my emphasis)

This is a line that the Bush administration is pushing to shield Dear Leader from criticism.  It's also why I think it's a mistake right now for the Democrats to push the notion of making FEMA a Cabinet-level department again.  This allows the administration to steer the discussion toward boxes on a organization chart, rather than on the substantive failure involved.

In other words, the administration was at fault in responding to a natural disaster because they were so intensely focused on protecting America from terrorism.

The problem with that argument is that it's bunk.  Much of the post-event actions required in a massive terrorist attack would be very similar to the kinds that were required in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

This same twist shows up in this article: WAR ON TERROR: Four Years After 9/11/The quest for national security/ NATURAL DISASTER'S MARK: In Hurricane Katrina's wake, some question whether battle against terrorism is the right fight by Marc Sandalow San Francisco Chronicle 09/11/05.  Sandalow is the Chronicle's Washington bureau chief.  Here we see the position coming from an administration spokesperson:

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been allocated for homeland security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency lost its Cabinet level status as it was subsumed by the new, anti-terrorism, Department of Homeland Security.

"It's pretty clear that most of this activity was not focused on major natural disasters ... and was really focused more on the problems associated with terrorist attacks," said Richard Falkenrath, former deputy homeland security adviser and deputy assistant to President Bush.

Sandalow does present the reality-based view, as well:

However, some analysts say a shift in the nation's attention is not the same as neglect. The consequences of a terrorist attack and a natural disaster hold more similarities than differences.

"These aren't two separate problems. In many instances, the responses are the same," said Francis Fukuyama, a professor of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

"This country is big enough and strong enough to prepare for both," said former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman, who, along with former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, chaired a commission that warned of the dangers of terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"What we found out with Katrina is that the country is still unable to deal with disaster," Rudman said in an interview. "God forbid this happens in San Francisco."

The breakdown of communications alone -- it took New Orleans police 48 hours to receive working telephones -- is enough to make many experts wonder how another city would deal with a major terrorist attack.

"If we do this badly at mobilizing national resources to deal with catastrophic events that we can actually model, and we actually had four or five days warning -- good Lord, how could we respond to a nuclear attack?" Wisner asked.

Good question.  This article also has my man Rummy explaining:

The federal government's inability to react more swiftly has prompted many to blame the war in Iraq for draining the nation's resources. The military fiercely denies the charge.

Of the 1.4 million men and women in uniform and another 600,000 in the reserves or National Guard, roughly 140,000 are serving in Iraq, and another 62,000 are in the Gulf Coast, according the Pentagon.

"We do not have a shortage of capacity," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel. "Whoever's raising that question ... doesn't really understand the situation."

Uh, Rummy, where were they when they were needed?  Why did you have to fly National Guard troops back from Iraq?  I mean if you have jillions of soldiers sitting around waiting to be sent somewhere, why did you have to do it that way?

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