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9/11 Commission Wraps Up New York Testimony - 2004-05-19

The committee investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks wrapped up its final day of hearings in New York, with calls to make the Department of Homeland Security's job easier and to increase counter-terrorism funding for New York City.

Commission member Timothy Roemer asked former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani why he wasn't given increased warning from the FBI and CIA about a presidential briefing document from August 6, 2001. The memorandum said Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the United States and mentioned New York City and the World Trade Center three times.

Roemer: ?How do we try to prepare our people, our sites and the city for something that happened that day and is probably going to happen again?? Giuliani: ?I don't know that I can really answer the whole question, I'll try. If that information had been given to us or more warnings had been given in the summer of 2001 I can't honestly tell you we would have done anything differently.?

However, the panel members did not ask the same kind of tough questions they posed to the former fire and police commissioners on the first day of testimony, leading some relatives of victims of the attacks to shout angrily during the former mayor's testimony.

Rosaleen Tallon, whose brother, Sean, was a firefighter who died in the Twin Towers, said that many rescue workers were killed because their radios didn't work and they didn't know the towers were about to collapse. She added that firefighters are still using poor equipment and that subject was hardly addressed.

?I think the commission is going light,? she said. ?I don't think they're getting into the meat of what they should ask. We should have had a detailed conversation yesterday with [Fire] Commissioner [Thomas] Von Essen about the history of the radios and the commission should have come here aware of what I'm aware of and what my mother's aware of and ask the questions we would have wanted to ask.?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who took office four months after the terror attacks, said New York City is a major target for terrorists and asked for more money to protect against attacks.

?I also want to urge this commission in its final report to recommend desperately needed reforms in the nation's system of funding homeland security,? he said. ?It is a system that was irrational the first time I testified, it remains tragically misguided today, creating grave hazards, not just for New Yorkers, but for all Americans.?

The mayor said New York state still ranks 49th among the 50 states in per capita homeland security funding.

?This is pork barrel politics at its worst. It is the kind of short-sighted, me-first nonsense that gives Washington a bad name,? he added. ?It also has the effect of aiding and abetting those who hate us and plot against us.?

The head of the national homeland security department, Tom Ridge, said in his testimony that he is working to integrate communications between counter-terrorism officials and law enforcement and called his department "a team effort."

However, one commission member said bureaucracy is slowing down Mr. Ridge's ability to do his job.

Commissioner: ?How many committees of Congress do you report to?? Ridge: ?I think the Congressman mentioned 88 committees and subcommittees. Just, uh, quite a few.? Commissioner: ?I just thought my ears weren't right. 88??

Many family members who attended the hearings were disappointed that the questions and answers were not more detailed. Mary Fetchet, who lost her son in the attack, was one of them.

?I'm extremely frustrated that we've come to the end of this commission and we're hearing these kinds of flowery questions,? she said. ?And I think that unless we don't care about preventing it from happening again, you know we can talk about the success, but if truly we want to get down to what failures occurred on September 11, we should be focused on those failures and understanding them across the board.?

The commission's next hearing will take place in Washington, D.C. in June. The commission plans to report its recommendations to the president on what should be done to prevent future attacks in July.