Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Firefighter Speaks Out 

Chief Peter Hayden of the Fire Department of New York did more to point out holes in New York’s (and the US’s) anti-terror efforts in one hearing this week than a lot of more high profile Homeland Security figures have in the last several years. For his efforts, he’ll probably become an isolated figure at the FDNY, or be forced out.

Hayden was the only person to openly question a new Disaster Plan adopted by the City of New York, one that puts the NYPD in charge of any hazardous materials situation (over the objections of the FDNY), whether a patrol officer or the Commissioner of Police is their representative on the scene.

Chief Hayden spoke out at a City Council hearing on the plan, pointing out a tendency that seems to be at the root of most anti-terror effort failures in this country. “Instead of seeking to control each other, agencies must learn how to work together to command these incidents,” Hayden said.

“There is a human behavior element here, where people don’t want to share information because information is viewed as power,” he said. “We see it at every level of government. The CIA does not tell the FBI. The FBI does not tell the NYPD. The NYPD does not tell the FDNY. This is human behavior.”

Hayden’s point strikes at the heart of what needs to happen in order to fight terror effectively. The effort shouldn’t be about creating yet more agencies and powers, as the Bush administration has done. It shouldn’t be about branding every regime we dislike as ‘evildoers’ and invading their countries, overextending our military in the process. It should be about sharing information in order to protect civilian lives and in order to find terror plots out before they happen.

The FBI knew, at a grassroots level, that there was an attempt to learn to fly airplanes without landing them, before September 11, 2001. The government knew there were Al Queda plotters in the US. The CIA knew Al Queda planned to attack the US domestically. The President was briefed on attack plans centered on lower Manhattan, among other places. What was lacking was an ability to share information already known.

Chief Hayden ought to be congratulated for stating the obvious, when so many are looking only to insulate their turf. For more about his testimony, go to 'Tug of War' with Bob Hennelly on the Brian Lehrer Show and to Michelle O'Donnell and Mike McIntyre at the Times.

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