Compare and Contrast

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”
—President Bush on ABC’s Good Morning America, 1 September 2005

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.”
— National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at a 16 May 2002 press conference

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.”
— National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at a 16 May 2002 press conference

The 6 August 2001, President’s Daily Briefing Memo, entitled Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US, included intelligence on al Qaeda threats as recent as three months in advance of the September 11 attacks. Highlights of the report include:

* An intelligence report received in May 2001 indicating that al Qaeda was trying to send operatives to the United States through Canada to carry out an attack using explosives. That information had been passed on to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
* An allegation that al Qaeda had been considering ways to hijack American planes to win the release of operatives who had been arrested in 1998 and 1999.
* An allegation that bin Laden was set on striking the United States as early as 1997 and through early 2001.
* Intelligence suggesting that suspected al Qaeda operatives were traveling to and from the United States, were U.S. citizens, and may have had a support network in the country.
* A report that at least 70 FBI investigations were under way in 2001 regarding possible al Qaeda cells/terrorist-related operations in the United States.

American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could “seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark,” according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”
—President Bush on ABC’s Good Morning America, 1 September 2005

From Tim Naftali’s essay Department of Homeland Screw-Up:

The collapse of a New Orleans levee has long led a list of worst-case urban crisis scenarios. The dots had already been connected. Over the last century, New Orleans has sunk 3 feet deeper below sea level. With each inch, pressure grows along the levees. Meanwhile the loss of wetlands and the shrinking of the Gulf Coast’s barrier islands have reduced the natural protection from hurricane winds. The weakness of the levees was underscored in a 2002 wide-ranging exploration of New Orleans’ hurricane vulnerability by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, one of many grimly vindicated Cassandras. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which built the levees and continues to manage them, told the paper then that there was little threat of a levee’s collapse. But the corps admitted that its estimates were 40 years old and that no one had bothered to update them.

The computer simulation of “Hurricane Pam,” conducted by researchers, governmental entities, and voluntary organizations in July of 2004, explored exactly the scenario that played out on 29 August 2005. According to a Cox News Service report:

Once the drill was complete, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hired a consulting firm to develop recommendations. Well into the second hurricane season since the drill, no final report from the firm has been publicly released.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been studying the idea of reinforcing the levees to withstand a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, since 2000. The 300 miles of existing levees, at 17 feet, were designed to protect New Orleans from no more than a Category 3 hurricane:

“We certainly understood the potential impact of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane,” Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps’ chief of engineers, told reporters. Washington, he said, had rolled the dice.

When Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, returned in January from a tour of the tsunami devastation in Asia, he urgently gathered his aides to prepare for a similar catastrophe in New Orleans, according to the New York Times.

“New Orleans was the No. 1 disaster we were talking about,” recalled Eric L. Tolbert, then a top FEMA official. “We were obsessed with New Orleans because of the risk.”

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