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A new cycle of 9/11 investigations
Media General News Service


September 11, 2005

As the nation marks the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, sneak attack by the al Qaeda terrorists, investigations are about to begin into another catastrophe - the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and its floods.

An investigation probably will show more shocking malfeasance at all levels of public responsibility than the press has dug out so far. That's what happened after 9/11.

A string of congressional and other investigations, impelled by the victims of the tragedy as much as anything else, brought forth proof of how unprepared and inadequate the nation's front-line agencies were.

The FBI ignored a field-office report that one of the al Qaeda pilots was in flight school learning to fly airliners but not land them.

Are we ready for a whole new cycle of investigation about the ineptitude of our government?

Tempers cool. Outrage is replaced by sadness and disgust. People soldier on. And in the Bush administration, at least, save for a squeaky wheel or two, nobody will get fired, but maybe there will be consequences.

The 9/11 Commission resulted eventually in a wholesale reshuffle of the intelligence community. The CIA, which took the brunt of the criticism, has been relegated to a second-tier agency under a big new super-spy, the director of national intelligence.

President Bush, just as he did with 9/11, has already called for an investigation of what went wrong in New Orleans. He has confessed that his administration's response was inadequate. There are few who would argue with him. Many agencies and officials were caught off-guard and ill-prepared for this event. So were state and local officials.

Most fingers are pointing at the Department of Homeland Security and the agency it absorbed in the massive 9/11 reshuffle of government, FEMA.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency once, years ago, was highly regarded for getting results quickly. But the single-minded national focus on terrorism seems to have diluted its sense of mission. It was a sideline performer with a lot of excuses and nothing to offer the dying, the thirsty and starving in New Orleans.

This was a foul-up of the first magnitude. But this country's fundamental values don't need to be accounted for or defended to anyone.

Predictably and drearily, certain countries have fulminated at hurricane force about the general failings of the U.S. economic system.

China's propaganda machine remarked that its own army would never have let New Orleans drown.

No. The Chinese solution would have been to build a dam across the Mississippi River and flood a good portion of several cities upstream, say, part of St. Louis.

That is exactly what the Chinese are doing with the mighty Yangtze, forcing people out of their houses and ruining antiquities of a great civilization in order to stop downriver flooding. Other, less intrusive solutions were available, but the Chinese masters chose the heroic Three Gorges Dam that forced 1.9 million people off their land.

Cuba was spreading the word that Bush fought the hurricane from a golf course in contrast to Fidel Castro, who took personal charge when high winds from a Category 5 hurricane struck Cuba.

The story the Cubans and their American mouthpieces was circulating as New Orleans was underwater was that Castro saved Cuba without a single loss of life by ordering everyone to dry land, complete with pets, TV sets and refrigerators so nobody would be reluctant to leave, while Bush was too late and too laidback to help even people, let alone pets, when the floods came.

Mixed in with this nonsense was some good advice from Dutch uncles. The Dutch, of course, are the world's masters at living below sea level, and their system of floodgates, dikes and seawalls is regarded as a model. Even Venice has figured out it needs to have a Dutch-style system of floodgates.

It is time for New Orleans to consult the Dutch. And it is time for Congress to reorganize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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