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May 15, 2005 - The safer we are, the less they know?

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My Pet Goat Re-dux: The safer we are, the less they know?

- Jeremy Stahl


Note: Jeremy Stahl is a freelance writer in Paris.  He was introduced by Heather Stimmler-Hall to Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (who is published in these in these pages as Our Man in Paris), and he offers the following.  If Ric is Our Man in Paris, Jeremy Stahl becomes Our Other Man in Paris, while Don Smith of the weekly photo magazine Left Bank Lens remains Our Eye on Paris.


As federal officials evacuated the White House, Supreme Court, and Congress Wednesday, shepherding more than 35,000 people into D.C.’s streets after a small plane ventured into restricted airspace over Washington, there was reason to be scared.


The two lost fliers who accidentally cruised their Cessna within three miles of the White House were ultimately no danger to the nation’s capital and not the true cause for alarm.


Frightening, however, was the fact that while the threat of a possible terrorist attack loomed over Washington, the city’s two top would-be guardians were out of the loop.


At the time of the threat the President, whose wife was being evacuated from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., was enjoying a bike ride in rural Maryland.


Bush was not informed of any possible danger until his trip was finished, approximately 36 minutes after the “all-clear” signal was given and it was established that the country was not under attack. According to Bush’s Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, this occurred according to “the protocols that we put in place after September 11.”


During his daily press briefing Thursday, McLellan used the word "protocols" at least fifteen times, insisted that said protocols were followed to the letter, and maintained that according to these protocols the threat was not grave enough to interrupt the President's bike ride, even if his wife and 35,000 others had to be evacuated.


The threat was, however, great enough that House members on the floor were reportedly told to run out of the building, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lost her shoes while being whisked away by Capitol Police.


But protocols said the President didn’t need to know any of this while it was happening.


Left similarly in the dark, the District police force, embodied by D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, wasn’t told of the possible danger until after fighter jets intercepted the wayward aircraft. Ramsey was only informed more than a half an hour after federal officials had started monitoring the situation.


According to Friday’s Washington Post, Ramsey said that D.C. police’s representative inside the Homeland Security Operations Center was not informed by Homeland Security officials of the threat.


Despite being physically inside the Homeland Security building, Sgt. Guy Poirier only realized what was happening after a Capitol Police intelligence official called Poirier to find out from Porier what the story was. After learning Poirier gathered what information he could, and minutes later sent a message to Ramsey telling him that the plane was already being escorted away from the city.


The Security Operations Center, along with the Homeland Security Department itself, was established to coordinate efforts between federal, state and local officials to defend the United States against attacks on U.S. soil.


A government agency designed to synchronize such efforts becomes obsolete, though, when people in the same command center aren’t speaking with one another during the beginning of a possible attack.


"I'm not going to sit there and make believe that their notification system is flawless, because it's not," Ramsey told the Post. "There are some issues there that need to be addressed…. This was all going on in a matter of minutes. We're only talking about seconds and minutes, but they count when you are talking about an aircraft."


On 9/11 the whole country learned the lesson Ramsey was describing, namely, that during a terrorist attack every minute counts.


On the other end, the White House’s stance was summed up perfectly by one Department of Homeland Security official: “The system worked as it should have.”


D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams was apparently less pleased.


From the Post’s account: “The mayor yesterday sought a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to review what D.C. officials called a dangerous delay that prevented the city from mobilizing emergency workers and taking steps to protect the public.”


The concern of these unnamed D.C. officials is the real fear this incident should generate.


If an aircraft enters restricted airspace and eventually has to be brought down, or worse, successfully attacks American soil, the police, the fire department, the first responders, and all those local officials who Republicans love to use as props at political conventions, need to be on the scene. In order for them to save lives and be the heroes that they are, these people need to be informed first.


On the bright side, at least D.C. Police knew 30 minutes before the President.


Considering the “My Pet Goat” incident, Bush’s ride in the park is not astonishing.


Remember, after Bush learned that the nation was under attack on 9/11, he continued to read “My Pet Goat” to a classroom of Florida schoolchildren for seven full minutes before doing anything.


“My Pet Goat” and “I Want to Ride My Bicycle” illustrate why so many on the left have so much contempt for Bush’s leadership ability.


A friend of mine who works on the Hill and was among those evacuated Wednesday put it like this: "I personally don't want Bush involved in the decision to shoot down a plane over Washington. Let him ride his Trikey."  But even with a president who prefers to finish children's books and bike rides during terror threats, we still need one who is told when such peril is under way.  If an air attack were ever to be the first wave in some larger terror strike against the nation, an updated commander in chief would be nice to have.


He could prove almost as vital as an informed police force.



Copyright 2005 - Jeremy Stahl


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....