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Who Links Here

Friday, February 10, 2006
Katrina: Who Knew What When?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:40 am

Via the NYT: White House Knew of Levee’s Failure on Night of Storm

“FYI from FEMA,” said an e-mail message from the agency’s public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, “are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires.”

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.

But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet,” he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

Given the responses by high officials that week: the President, Chertoff and Brown, this is stunning information.

Either there was a complete lack of communication within the administration or the higher ups simply did not understand what was being told to them.

There is a list of some of the findings from the congressional investigation, and they are rather remarkable in the specific list of failures of government from the local to the federal level. The list is too long to excerpt here.

One does get the feeling that Michael Brown is trying to deflect blame from himself from some of the quotes in piece from an interview with the NYT yesterday:

“There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was,” Mr. Brown said in the interview.

The problem, he said, was the handicapping of FEMA when it was turned into a division of the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

“The real story is with this new structure,” he said. “Why weren’t more things done, or what prevented or delayed Mike Brown from being able to do what he would have done and did do in any other disaster?”

However, this doesn’t really comport with e-mails of Brown chatting about his clothing and how he looked on TV. If he knew what was going and what to do about it, but was being prevented from so doing by his superiors, one would think that there would be more evidence of the fact than Brown simply saying so now after he left FEMA under with less than a stellar public image.

According to the piece, Brown received information from New Orleans about the levees and told the person on site that he was going to call the White House:

As his helicopter approached the site, Mr. Bahamonde testified in October, there was no mistaking what had happened: large sections of the levee had fallen over, leaving the section of the city on the collapsed side entirely submerged, but the neighborhood on the other side relatively dry. He snapped a picture of the scene with a small camera.

“The situation is only going to get worse,” he said he warned Mr. Brown, then the FEMA director, whom he called about 8 p.m. Monday Eastern time to report on his helicopter tour.

“Thank you,” he said Mr. Brown replied. “I am now going to call the White House.”

Citing restrictions placed on him by his lawyers, Mr. Brown declined to tell House investigators during testimony if he had actually made that call. White House aides have urged administration officials not to discuss any conversations with the president or his top advisors and declined to release e-mail messages sent among Mr. Bush’s senior advisors.

Call me cynical, but whenever individuals will not answer simple, direct questions of that nature, and state that they cannot do so on advise of their lawyer, I get suspicious.

Regardless of Brown’s precise role, it is radically clear that the administration reacted very poorly to this event. I still recall Chertoff on tv, late in the week, clearly not knowing what was going on in New Orleans. That was extremely odd at the time, and it is unforgivable, to be honest, if it is in fact the case that his office knew of the levee breaks as early as this story states that it did.

Specifically, the is specific evidence that shows that the information did get to DHS:

But investigators have found the e-mail message referring to Mr. Bahamonde’s helicopter survey that was sent to John F. Wood, chief of staff to Secretary Chertoff at 9:27 p.m. They have also found a summary of Mr. Bahamonde’s observations that was issued at 10:30 p.m. and an 11:05 p.m. e-mail message to Michael Jackson, the deputy secretary of homeland security. Each message describes in detail the extensive flooding that was taking place in New Orleans after the levee collapse.

As Senator Collins (R-Maine) states in the piece:

“Secretary Chertoff was too disengaged from the process,”

This appears to clearly be the case.

The entire response was a disaster in and of itself, it would seem.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | |Send TrackBack

1 Comment »

  1. Odd that the “money quote” used to prove the WH knew that the levees were broken is so vague (”Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires.”), but the assertions of knowledge in the article are so specific.

    Comment by Terry — Saturday, February 11, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

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