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Throwing Caution to a Very Ill Wind

By R. J. Kovic  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 3 pages)
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"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would... try to use an airplane as a missile..." Condoleezza Rice, 2002 Press Briefing

"... that was always one of the considerations in the planning. And resources were actually designated to deal with that particular threat." Former FBI Louis Freeh Director (1993-2001), Testimony to 9/11 Commission 2004

"... I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning, that planes might be used as weapons." Condoleezza Rice, Testimony to 9/11 Commission 2004

So it was well-known in the intelligence community that one of the potential areas or devices to be used by terrorists, which they had discussed, according to our intelligence information, was the use of airplanes, either packed with explosives or otherwise, in suicide missions? 9/11 Commissioner Ben-Veniste

"... that's correct." Director Freeh

Good comedy. Too bad it had to be set against the backdrop of a tragedy.


So what was learned from 9/11? Not much it seems. George Bush and Ms. Rice, whose aspirations were/are to become commissioners of baseball and the NFL, respectively, seem to have forgotten the old adage that a strong offense may be showy and a crowd pleaser but championships are won with a good, solid defense backing up the "show".

That's particularly puzzling since George Bush is fond of saying, "The most solemn duty of the American President is to protect the American people". He also likes to point out that he "wake(s) up every morning, thinking about how to better protect our country."

If Ms. Rice's 9/11 testimony that, "To inflict devastation on a massive scale, the terrorists only have to succeed once, and we know they are trying every day" is added to the mix then one may have hoped that the "thinking" process involved listening to threat scenarios from different sources, all of which agree that we are vulnerable, and then "protecting the American people" by doing something about it. Unfortunately, the Administration's track record proves that hope misguided.

Immediately after 9/11, a number of Congressional committees, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the GAO (Government Accountability Office), and private think- tanks initiated a series of reviews on the status of safety at chemical plants. That effort resulted in their issuing warnings about the dangers inherent in lacking a specific set of guidelines to deal with terrorist threats. The GAO saw so many gaps in the way the government dealt with the issue of safety and terrorism that it reported, "To date, no one has comprehensively assessed the security of chemical facilities against terrorist attack."

Attempting to identify potential targets, the EPA listed 123 (since revised to 110) chemical plants that, if subject to terrorist attack, could release gasses that can kill or injure over 1,000,000 people. Another 700 plants were identified where the human toll would be more than 100,000. 3,000 facilities were found that threaten 10,000 people each, and the Army Surgeon General determined that as many as "2.4 million people could be killed or injured in an attack on a toxic chemical plant in a densely populated area."

A sufficiently alarmed Senate Committee, approximately 2 months after 9/11, passed a bill that required chemical plants to take pro-active steps to ensure that the public was protected in the event of terrorist attack(s).

So, how has the Administration responded to the warnings from security experts, the Senate committee's bill, and various, ominous reports by the EPA and the GAO over the course of time since 9/11?

The Administration, and its allies in Congress, opposed the Senate bill which, as a result, ended up falling by the wayside. It opposed other efforts at securing the plants through government regulation. It also administered a death-blow to regulation by removing the EPA from enforcement and "replacing" it with Homeland Security.

"Replacing" is in italics for a reason. The EPA was the only federal agency with expertise in, and some enforcement powers over, chemical plant safety. Homeland Security didn't, and still doesn't, have any of the enforcement powers of the EPA nor does it have any additional authority to require the chemical industry to adopt strict(er) security measures.

The result is that the Administration essentially took pro-active steps that actually weakened security. Since that seems to defy common sense, one might be inclined to question the rationale behind such moves.

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