The Real Rudy

Five years have passed since September 11, but for Rudy Giuliani, it's as if the disaster happened yesterday. When we needed a leader, he walked the canyons of Lower Manhattan, covered in soot and rallying a panicked city through a morning turned suddenly dark. Nearly 2,000 days and two foreign wars later, his image remains as compelling a symbol of that transforming moment as the crumbling towers. As he prepares for the presidential campaign that has been his dream since he was in college, that is surely what he hopes voters will remember.

That image has never been closely examined or seriously challenged. In Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton's new book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, the investigative panel's bipartisan leaders confess that their greatest single failing was the pass they gave America's mayor when he appeared before them in 2004. Even as the evidence of the city's self-inflicted wounds has mounted, Giuliani has seen his mythic star rise, boosting him to the top of GOP presidential polls and establishing him among the most admired public figures in the land.

But now, as Giuliani embarks on the long road from Tribeca to Des Moines, betting that a single visual can overcome all of his New York social-issue handicaps, he is testing the limits of the nation's 9-11 nostalgia. With Karl Rove's former deputy, Chris Henick, working at his side at the former mayor's consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, the putative candidate is making himself fair game for fresh scrutiny, even within the party that exploited his icon status at its 2004 convention, as well as on the campaign and lecture circuits ever since the terrorist attacks.

Rudy Giuliani's performance on 9-11 is legendary, but behind that image lies another less flattering reality: an eight-year history of error and negligence and a failure to plan ahead that caused critical errors -- and even cost the lives of firefighters and police officers. Some of the 9-11 family leaders who have raised the most troubling issues about the city's preparations have vowed to stalk him in the primary states. Their focus is on firefighters whose lifeline link to unheard evacuation orders was the same radio that failed in the same towers during the first terrorist bombing in February 1993. They can't understand why the city never performed an interagency drill in the towers, had no plan or command-and-control protocol for a floor-consuming high-rise fire, and was indifferent, even after the 1993 warning, to rooftop, elevator, and handicapped rescues. The gross failures of building- and fire-code enforcement, the stark ineptitude of the mayor's vaunted Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the tolerated insularity of Fire Department command, the stay-put death knell of the 911 operators and fire dispatchers -- they all continue to haunt the families. They hold Giuliani himself responsible for the decision that morning to split the police and fire command posts, when the first rule of emergency response is unified command. Their separation contributed to communication gaps that every official inquiry has said caused casualties.

The spin-free examination of Giuliani's sainted status should begin now, just as he attempts to catapult himself to the White House almost exclusively on the force of that one-day war. It starts with this sample of illusions about him, centered around his self-advertised premonitions of the terrorist threat and the fortress he built to defend the city from its attackers.

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It would not have been surprising if Giuliani, with his impressive federal law-enforcement background, had been obsessed with terrorism throughout his career. Indeed, the 9-11 Commission deferred to Giuliani as if he were a counter-terrorist pioneer, seeking his advice on organizing the FBI and preparing for future attacks. His public testimony at the commission hearings in May 2004 turned into a spectacle of such salutes. A few weeks before, he had told the commission staff in a confidential interview: “In my first few years as mayor I thought there was a definite terrorist threat.” He had claimed that the February 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing, which killed six and left more than 1,000 injured, convinced him there was a single terrorist network behind the ongoing threat. “A series of briefings that followed led me to believe that New York City was a target,” he'd said, telling the committee that he was “advised” about tunnels, bridges, subways, “and other specific targets.” Those remarks measured how far ahead of the curve he depicted himself as being before the 9-11 attack came.

Giuliani's prescient awareness was supposedly rooted in his 15-year career as a G-man, during which he ran the entire criminal division of the Justice Department in Washington from 1981 to June 1983, and then served as U.S. attorney in Manhattan from 1983 until days before he announced his first mayoral campaign in 1989. He has not hesitated, before and since 9-11, to suggest that his federal law-enforcement background equipped him in an unusual way to both understand and combat terrorism. In a 1998 television appearance, he said, “I had to deal with terrorism when I was U.S. attorney, and when I was the third-ranking official in the Justice Department, so I have a pretty good sense of it.” And in his post–9-11 book, Leadership, he reiterated how his “career as a prosecutor” had prepared him to put himself “inside the minds” of terrorists.

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The Achille Lauro Lie

The highlight of that early resume was his claimed frontline status in the fight against Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). As early as his 1989 mayoral race, Giuliani branded his Democratic opponent, David Dinkins, “soft on terrorism” because Dinkins wouldn't oppose an Arafat visit to the United Nations. Giuliani claimed that his hatred of Arafat stemmed from the days when “I investigated Arafat for his alleged involvement in the murder of Leon Klinghoffer.” He was referring to the 1985 murder of a New York businessman aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian ship hijacked off the coast of Egypt by Palestinian extremists. The killing was so savage -- the wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old Klinghoffer was shot in the head and dumped in the Mediterranean -- that, as Klinghoffer's daughter would later say, it “put a face” on terrorism in the American mind. Giuliani has repeatedly cited his supposed work on the Klinghoffer case since the 1980s, even including it in Leadership.

Yet in truth, there was never any criminal investigation by Giuliani or the Justice Department that directly implicated Arafat in the Klinghoffer killing. Giuliani's friend and mentor Arnold Burns, who was associate attorney general in Washington when the Achille Lauro case was reviewed there and who argued a civil case on behalf of the Klinghoffer family before the U.S. Supreme Court after he left government, says Giuliani was never involved with it. Burns, the finance chairman of Giuliani's first campaign for mayor in 1989, added, “I know of nothing Rudy did in any shape or form on the Klinghoffer case.” Jay Fischer, the Klinghoffer family attorney who spearheaded their litigation for 12 years and eventually won a monetary settlement with the PLO, says he “never had any contact” with Giuliani or anyone in his office about the case.

Victoria Toensing, the deputy at the Justice Department who did investigate the Palestinian leader who organized the Achille Lauro hijacking, Abu Abbas, says that no one in Giuliani's office “was involved at all.” Asked if there was any consideration given to indicting Arafat over the Klinghoffer case or other terrorist attacks on Americans, Toensing said, “Sure, people were always talking about indicting Arafat. I explained to those people that they had to show me exactly what law he had broken.”

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Hizzoner Before 9-11: No Concern

In early 1993, candidate Giuliani was quietly participating in his own carefully crafted, very private meetings with experts concerning issues of municipal governance. On March 25, Giuliani met for the first time with Bill Bratton, the Boston police commissioner who would ultimately replace NYPD's Ray Kelly. The interview occurred less than a month after the bombing, but that subject never came up. Neither did the subject of terrorism, in any form.

On June 24, the FBI raided a warehouse in Queens where five Muslims in white overalls, who were linked to the WTC bombing, were busted with plans -- and enough fuel and fertilizer -- to blow up two Hudson River tunnels, the United Nations, and the office tower that housed the FBI. The banner on the front page of the Daily News was “TARGET N.Y.: ON THE BRINK OF TERROR.” FBI special agent James Fox also announced the arrest of three other conspirators, adding that the bombers were caught with five metal drums filled with a “witches' brew” of explosives. Kelly noted that “they were looking” to execute their “Day of Terror” plan “in the next week.” The drumbeat of local and national coverage made terrorism the hottest story of the day, with heavy implications for the next city administration. But Giuliani said nothing.

Though his law-enforcement credentials and Dinkins's halfhearted response to the terror-related events of 1993 represented a political opportunity, Giuliani stayed on message, and his message did not include terrorism. Richard Bryers, who was Giuliani's campaign spokesman, acknowledges that they “did absolutely nothing about the bombing” or the warehouse conspiracy, saying they were focused on the murder rate, budget, and racial tensions.

Once Giuliani won in November 1993, the immediate focus of his post-election transition was the selection of a police commissioner. Bratton was initially interviewed the day after Thanksgiving at the Scarsdale farmhouse of Adam Walinsky, the former chairman of the State Commission of Investigation and a member of the transition committee in charge of police, fire, and corrections. On the same day, Walinsky and Howard Wilson, a former federal prosecutor close to Giuliani and chairman of the committee, took Bratton to a secret session with the mayor-elect at Wilson's law office. Bratton then appeared before the eight-member transition committee and, finally, showed up for a more intimate session in December with Giuliani and the inner circle of his five closest advisers that ran until 1 a.m. In all of those combined hours, there wasn't so much as a whisper about the terrorist threat that had so dramatically surfaced only months earlier.

“I don't believe that any member of the committee or anyone else involved spent five seconds, there wasn't five seconds of discussion, about terrorism,” Walinsky recalls. He and two other members of the committee -- Herman Badillo, who ran for city comptroller on Giuliani's ticket, and attorney Gary Cooper -- agree that the World Trade Center attack and the June breakup of the bombing plot never figured in their discussions.

Likewise, after Giuliani was sworn in on January 2, 1994, he did not discuss the terrorist threat the city faced with other key officials. As U.S. attorney, Giuliani had hired and befriended the men who had prosecuted the city's important antiterrorism cases, from Gil Childers, who convicted most of the 1993 bombers, to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman's prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, to Ramzi Yousef 's prosecutor Dietrich Snell, to the embassy bombing trial attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, to the chief of the counterterrorism unit David Kelley. Yet as mayor in the new age of terror, Giuliani never sought a briefing that might have allowed him to benefit from their unique understanding of the jihadist underworld.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who ran Giuliani's former Southern District office throughout his mayoralty, says neither she nor any of the trial assistants were ever asked to brief Giuliani or his staff. In the summer of 1994, she invited Giuliani to address the whole office. He sat at his old desk and gabbed before delivering a speech and taking questions.

“I don't recall the subject of terrorism coming up,” White said. Her chief assistant, Matt Fishbein, remembered that a dozen members of White's and Giuliani's top staff talked for a while before the speech, and no one mentioned the bombing or terrorism.

White had taken over the Southern District in mid-1993, right before the Day of Terror busts. When this meeting occurred, her office had already prosecuted the first group of 1993 bombers and was trying the warehouse plotters. Yet Giuliani did not attempt to set up a pipeline of information to an office that would become the national headquarters for the war on Osama bin Laden.

“We didn't have any substantial discussions about terrorism until after 9-11,” White said. She was also sure that no one from her terrorism unit was ever asked by the police or City Hall to “sit down and focus” on what it knew. White assumed that all Giuliani wanted was periodic intelligence about specific threats or events, not a broader terrorist picture, and she believed he got that from the FBI. “He could have picked up the phone” if he needed a fuller context said Fishbein. Counterterrorism chief David Kelley said his highest-level interaction was with a deputy police chief, and that he relied on the detectives in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which he oversaw, as the “conduit available to city government.”

He acknowledged that the city never increased the number of Task Force detectives before 9-11. He didn't know “how the information went up the ranks” and simply “assumed” Giuliani was briefed.

White did not find the lack of substantive exchange surprising. Nor did Childers, McCarthy, or Snell regard it as any failing on Giuliani's part that his administration had not tapped into their understanding of the threat. But Giuliani certainly gave voters reason to believe they would benefit in unusual ways from his experience and fraternal law-enforcement relationships.

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9-11 Itself: Renting the Bunker

Command-and-control failings were not the only city response errors with possible catastrophic effect that day. There was also the destruction of the ballyhooed Emergency Operations Center (EOC) -- the infamous “bunker” -- which Giuliani had proudly positioned 23 flights up at 7 World Trade Center.

The 9-11 Commission's senior counsel, John Farmer, cited a number of ways that an operating command center might have saved lives. If the center had been located elsewhere and thus able to remain operational that day, he says, “I really think it would have made a difference. Maybe the failure to communicate among the agencies doesn't happen that day because that thing is functioning. That's the point of it. I've never been convinced that they could have done that much better with civilians, but I think the number of responder deaths could have been greatly reduced.”

Examining the real-life costs of the lost command center is a decidedly personal assignment of blame, since the location of the center was unquestionably a decision made by the hands-on mayor. Even the Giuliani champions at Time called it “a mistake” to locate the command center at 7 WTC, part of a complex viewed long before 9-11 as one of the top terrorist targets in the world. Richard Sheirer, who became Giuliani's emergency management director, ridiculed the choice before and after 9-11. At a top-level meeting of the Giuliani administration, Police Commissioner Howard Safir fought the mayor's attempt to put the EOC there, branding the location “ground zero” years before 9-11 because of the 1993 attack.

Giuliani, however, overruled this advice. Rejecting an already secure, technologically advanced city facility across the Brooklyn Bridge, he insisted on a command center within walking distance of City Hall. With then OEM head Jerry Hauer unwilling to put a facility underground in the City Hall area because of flooding concerns, Giuliani wound up settling in 1997 on the only bunker ever built in the clouds, at the only site in the entire city that had been shaken to its foundation four years earlier by terrorists who had vowed to return.

It was at once the dumbest decision he ever made, and the one that made him a legend. If the center had been elsewhere, all the dramatic visuals that turned Giuliani into a nomad warrior would instead have been tense but tame footage from its barren press conference room, where reporters had been corralled prior to 9-11 for snowstorms and the Millennium celebration. The closest any cameras would've gotten to Giuliani-in-action would have been shots of him with 100 officials, working over monitors, maps, mikes, and phones.

Farmer says there was a legion of ways that a functional command center might have helped spare lives that day. To start with, the towers were “configured in such a way that the fire chiefs told us they had no idea about the conditions on the upper floors,” while the command center “would've had video to relay directly to the lobby.” With every departmental radio frequency available and OEM, police, and fire brass with the mayor, Farmer says that “they would have had access to ongoing reports” from police helicopters, including a pilot's warning that the South Tower looked like it would partially collapse nine minutes before it did. The 9-11 Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and a McKinsey & Company report all found that this “potentially important information,” as McKinsey put it, “never reached the Incident Commander … or the senior FDNY chiefs in the lobbies.”

When Giuliani first asked him to find a location for the EOC, Hauer had examined only one site -- the sprawling Metrotech complex of office towers just across the bridge in Brooklyn. Since it was already the home of the city's new $55 million Technology Center, he decided it “could meet our needs.” The advantages were striking -- particularly when compared with where the command center actually wound up. Hauer said the Metrotech center “could be available within six months.” (It took three-plus years to build at 7 WTC.) Renovation funding was left over in the budget for Metrotech, and no rent would be charged, since it was space the city had already leased. (The bill for 7 WTC's rent and renovations tallied more than $61 million.) Hauer said the Metrotech building was secure and, he added prophetically, “not as visible a target as buildings in Lower Manhattan.” With 911 and fire/EMS communications scheduled to move there, he concluded that the complex would serve “as a focal point for public safety activity.”

Hauer also presented the cons, and the first one was that “traveling to Metrotech will consume more of the mayor's time.” “The real issue,” the memo concluded, “is whether or not the mayor wants to go across the river to manage an incident. If he is willing to do this, Metrotech is a good alternative.” Hauer continued to raise the question of a Metrotech siting, but eventually hit a stone wall in a conversation with Giuliani counsel Denny Young: “Denny said it had to be within walking distance of City Hall. … The mayor wants to be able to walk to this facility quickly. That's it. I said to the mayor, based on your requirement of walking distance, here's the area we can do it, all within a narrow range of City Hall. He said fine.”

Within those parameters, Hauer began working with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which handled leasing for city agencies. No one was more determined to do the command center up big than DCAS Commissioner Bill Diamond, a wealthy real-estate heir and Republican financier who had spent much of his life in patronage positions. For virtually the entire 12 years of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Diamond had held the politically pivotal position of regional administrator for the General Services Administration, which put him in charge of contracting and leasing in the Northeast.

In 1989, Diamond started contributing to Giuliani's campaign committees, hitting contribution limits more than once. By 2005, he and his two wives had given a total of $36,000 in donations to every political committee Giuliani has ever formed. The broker assigned by Diamond's agency to find space for the command center was a national firm with a tiny New York presence, CB Real Estate Group. On its board of directors were three Republican giants, including the former counsel to the Reagan-Bush campaign, Stanton Anderson, who'd gotten to know Giuliani when he worked for the Reagan administration. James Didion, ceo of CB Real Estate at the time, says, “There was a relationship with City Hall. But I don't know who was involved.”

Hauer recalls that Diamond himself was quite enthusiastic about 7 WTC, which splendidly fit the bill of a high-profile building for a high-profile project. “He did everything he could to facilitate it.” The Port Authority owned the land underneath all the Trade Center structures. But in the early 1980s, the authority had given developer Larry Silverstein a 99-year lease to build the 7 WTC tower. Slated as Silverstein's prize tenant was Drexel Burnham, an investment firm that had been one of Wall Street's giants. But in a bizarre turn of fate, Giuliani had turned his prosecutorial sights on Drexel, and when his case concluded, the indicted company was finished. So was its agreement to lease a new headquarters at 7 WTC, and Silverstein's biggest project soon began to look like his biggest blunder. But happily for Silverstein, nine federal agencies took space in the building during Diamond's tenure at the General Services Administration, agreeing to pay rents that were often an overpriced embarrassment. As much Silverstein space as the federal government leased, however, no one ever rented the 23rd floor, once planned as Drexel's trading floor, which remained vacant for a decade. Instead of Giuliani target Michael Milken reigning supreme on that floor, Giuliani himself would reign as commander in chief of a state-of-the-art command center.

Silverstein had given nary a dime to either of Giuliani's first two mayoral campaigns, spurning the candidate's courting of him in 1993. But by the time 7 WTC emerged as a possible command center site in 1996, their relationship had greatly improved. In October 1994, the developer began donating to Giuliani's committee, beginning with a meager $500. By November 1996, he, his wife, and his company had contributed $17,500 -- or nearly $5,000 over the legal limit (the excess was returned after a newspaper reported it). He also hosted a $1,000 per couple party for Giuliani aboard his yacht docked in the Hudson River in June 1996, collecting another $36,100 from his invited friends. When Giuliani, unable to run for re-election, formed a federal exploratory committee in 1998, Silverstein and an executive of his company gave another $3,000. That contribution was made at a party in Howard Rubenstein's Fifth Avenue home. Silverstein had long been one of the public relations czar's top clients, and power-broker Rubenstein confirmed a private breakfast attended by Silverstein and Giuliani at Gracie Mansion. In addition to Silverstein, two top executives of the construction company he was using to build the command center, Jay Koven and Jack Shafran, gave $4,000 at the party, bringing the Silverstein-connected total to at least $7,000. “Attendance was obligatory,” recalls Shafran. “The invitation meant we were expected to give a contribution.”

The timing couldn't have been queasier. Two weeks before the event, Silverstein had signed the lease for the command center. The day before, the budget office had rushed through approvals for $12.6 million, the initial renovation cost. Finally, in July 1999, just a month after the command center opened, Silverstein hosted another yacht fund-raiser for Giuliani, raising $100,000 for his prospective U.S. Senate race against Hillary Clinton.

The invisible combination of Bill Diamond's history with 7 WTC, and Larry Silverstein's intricate new relationship with the Giuliani administration, had resulted in a decision to locate the city's command center high above the one spot on American soil that had been the target of an attack by foreign terrorists.

The line of critics who have blasted the siting of the center includes the highest-ranking uniformed police official of the Giuliani era, Chief of the Department Lou Anemone, who says he was a fierce opponent when the decision was made. “I did a couple of memos against that site, citing the closeness to an intended target, the 23rd floor dangers and hazards,” he said years later. “It was a joke. You don't want to confuse Giuliani with the facts, and his ‘yes men' would agree with him. In terms of targets, the World Trade Center was No. 1. I guess you had to be there in 1993 to know how strongly we felt it was the wrong place.”

Yet Sunny Mindel, the former mayoral press secretary who is now the spokeswoman for Guiliani's consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, suggests it's all hindsight. “At the time, given the type of emergencies that could beset a modern urban center, it seemed absolutely appropriate,” she said in 2002. “No one could have predicted the events of September 11.” In fact, Silverstein's property risk assessment report identified the scenario of an aircraft striking a tower as one of the “maximum foreseeable losses” just months before 9-11. A congressional inquiry after 9-11 cited numerous indicators that such attacks were a possible terrorist tactic, including one specific aircraft threat involving the World Trade Center.

The contention that no one could have predicted a terrorist return to the World Trade Center is particularly clueless. Says U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, “I didn't think it made any sense to put the command center at 7 WTC, where it was in the zone of likely attack.” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who formerly worked as a security consultant to the Port Authority, adds, “If Giuliani had any sense of the threat, he would have gotten out of the City Hall area. He put it right next to a target. It was just unwise.”

From the forthcoming book Grand Illusion by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins. © 2006 by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers. Anna Lenzer provided research assistance for the book.

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