Federal Commission Opens 9/11 Probe In Lower Manhattan
By: NY1 News
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The independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks opened its first public hearing Monday in Lower Manhattan.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was created by the federal government to give a complete account of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, including intelligence and security failures, and to provide recommendations for preventing future attacks.
“Our purpose is to find out why things happened, how they could have happened and what we can do to prevent them from ever happening again, said commission chairman Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey. “We’ll be following paths, and we will follow those individual paths wherever they lead us. We may end up holding individual agencies, people and procedures to account, but our fundamental purpose will not be to point fingers, it’s rather to answer fully the questions that so many still have.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Governor George Pataki and World Trade Center attack survivors and victims' relatives testified on the first day of the two-day hearing.
“I urge the commission in most emphatic form possible to recommend to Congress that it appropriate sufficient monies, earmarked to the cities most vulnerable to attack, to help us defray the extraordinary cost of protecting citizens and the whole country,” Bloomberg said in an opening statement.
Mary Fetchet listened to the voice of her son, Brad, on a phone message left after a plane hit Tower One of the World Trade Center. The 24-year-old was working in Tower Two.
“How is it that people would be directed to remain in a 110-story building, supposedly Îsafe and secure,’ when its twin tower is billowing with smoke,” said Fetchet.
The commission listened to stirring and emotional stories from survivors and family members of victims.
"I was hoping to put a personal face on the tragedy that would help spur them to greater determination,” said Harry Waizer, a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald who was badly burned riding up in an elevator in Tower One.
Port Authority Police Officer David Lim, who lost his K-9 partner that day, told his harrowing tale of being inside Tower One when it collapsed.
“We couldn’t see each other - it was totally black,” Lim said. “We couldn't breathe, and we had to try and breathe through our shirts, but we were in fairly good shape. We were alive.”
In addition to witnesses, the commission also heard from experts on terrorist groups and intelligence needed to stop them. All offered sobering insight on September 11 and the future.
“Any improvements that occur will reduce the frequency of attacks and will reduce the lethality of attacks, but will not end them completely,” said Daniel Byman of Georgetown University.
The hearing continues Tuesday with testimony from intelligence officials and representatives from various agencies involved with domestic security.
The panel plans to release a draft report by May.
The terrorism commission wasn't in town to focus on funding, but the mayor was determined to use his high-profile moment to make his case. NY1’s Davidson Goldin has the story.
The mayor is on a mission to win more federal money for New York City, and he's taking his message to anyone who will listen.
“It is laughable, tragically laughable, to think that a tiny city in another state is under the same kind of threat that New York City is,” Bloomberg said.
The mayor is angry about a federal formula that allocates homeland security money largely based on population rather than risk. He testified Monday morning before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, meeting at the Customs House in Lower Manhattan.
“At some point politics has to give way to reality,” Bloomberg said. “If we allocated money to the military this way, our troops in Iraq would be fighting with bows and arrows.”
The 10 commission members have no real authority, and can only make recommendations to Congress. They were a captive audience for the mayor, who wants $$900 million from the federal government. So far, the city has been given $$11 million.
New York State has been given just $$1.40 per resident, far less than the national state average of $$3.29. Bloomberg says the formula should focus solely on the risk of a terrorist attack.
“Homeland security funds should be allocated on the basis of threat analysis and risk. Any other formula — for example, population — defies logic and makes a mockery of the country’s counter-terrorism efforts,” Bloomberg told the commission.
The mayor was testy during his testimony. At one point, he chastised the commission's members for talking to their aides while he was speaking.
The commission's members were clearly taken aback, especially because the mayor surprised them by bringing the police and fire commissioners with him.
Bloomberg is facing a $$3.5 billion budget gap that he says is largely due to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The mayor raced to Washington after his testimony Monday morning to lobby Congress, which is working on a funding bill for the Iraq war that also includes additional funds for homeland security. Bloomberg wants $$900 million for the city's security costs, including the wartime Operation Atlas.
Last week, Governor George Pataki, in a rare move, also criticized the Bush administration's funding formulas.