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Be Prepared

Former FBI director Louis Freeh talks about Rudy Giuliani's commitment to deal with terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

By 9.7.07

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This week Rudy Giuliani rolled out another of his 12 Commitments -- this one to ensure preparedness for terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Giuliani is promising not to repeat the errors of Katrina and to develop a better funded and coordinated and more decentralized Department of Homeland Security. His chief advisor on this issue is Louis Freeh, who served under Giuliani as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and then later as FBI Director. He talked about disaster preparedness as well as the Justice Department and his past experience with Giuliani.

How is Giuliani's approach to disaster preparedness better than the current one?

Freeh says that "from an operational point of view" the biggest change may to be create "accountability centers" in different regions of the country where state and local authorities who ultimately will deal with a crisis will be responsible for disaster planning. He notes that when the Department of Homeland Security was founded "many people resisted as did the President" because of the logistical challenges of combining 22 agencies into one operation. He remarks that if such a plan were proposed in the private sector a Board of Directors would likely reject is as "dysfunctional." According to Freeh, devolving responsibility to regional centers and "integrating" planning with first responders are keys to ensuring improved responses to the next disaster.

How would Giuliani prevent boondoggle spending under the guise of disaster relief?

Freeh contends that by setting up regional centers with "plans to be carried out by not just one constituency," local earmarking by particular representatives can be reduced. He notes that you will always "get requests" from localities but the idea is to set up a rational "funding mechanism."

What about critics of Giuliani's handling of 9/11?

Freeh says that it is such an emotional issue and that if a father lost a son he has every right to be heard, for example, about radios that didn't work. Nevertheless, Freeh says that Giuliani, though he was "not head of NORAD, or President or head of the CIA," should nonetheless get full credit because New York City was "as prepared as any city for the disaster of uncontemplated horror." He notes that when he was at the FBI a conscious effort was made to steer high security events like the 60th Anniversary of the UN to New York because of "their overall all preparedness and how they executed it."

Why is disaster preparedness an important consideration for voters?

Freeh argues that disaster preparedness need to be "kept high on the list" of policy issues. Pointing to the 9/11 attacks, Katrina, and the recent arrest of suspected terrorists in Germany, he contends that it is important to have "an ongoing mindset of preparedness" and not simply to react to each episode.

What assurance would we have that disaster preparedness would be more competently managed in a Giuliani administration?

Freeh says Giuliani is well known for his "very hands on management." The country, he says, "wouldn't see part-time leadership" and the deputies whom he'd task "would be superb, accountable and competent." He pointedly notes that Giuliani "wouldn't be praising the head of FEMA when he did a very bad job." He says that Giuliani would not be offering "just symbolic leadership -- which is needed -- but would be holding Compstat type meetings."

Why haven't we secured our borders?

Freeh begins by saying that we cannot be taken "credibly" on disaster prevention and preparedness if we cannot secure the borders. He notes that agencies in the past rightfully complained about a lack of resources. He also says that with adequate funding for a "physical and technology" fence and a process to definitively define "who is here," we can in fact secure the borders. He also identifies "will" and "accountability" as previously missing but which, he contends, Giuliani will bring to immigration reform. Not surprisingly, he analogizes to Giuliani's success in fighting crime in New York. Freeh recalls that in New York "there was a problem for every solution" -- meaning judges, prosecutors, police and politicians pointed fingers at one another rather than solve the crime problem. Giuliani "had a great idea. He said, 'You're the captain of this precinct. You are responsible and come up with a plan. You are accountable. If you don't do your job you are a fine public servant but we'll replace you.'"

As a prosecutor for Giuliani in the Southern District of New York, what did Freeh learn about Giuliani?

Freeh says ruefully that the prosecutors in that office were "fairly confident" and "didn't appreciate" someone who would come in and "tell them how to do their jobs and micromanage them," but that Giuliani was "someone to set priorities and represent us in the community." He jokes that Giuliani was accused of "taking a demotion" when he left the number three job in the Justice Department, but that the prosecutors didn't view it that way. He says simply that Giuliani was a "very, very good lawyer" and credits him with providing "good ideas and good counsel" on the famous Mafia Pizza Connection case which Freeh tried for 19 months. Freeh says, "I was just very impressed with his leadership."

What about accusations that Giuliani grandstanded with the press?

Freeh says firmly that Giuliani is "not someone who took credit for what others did." He says that at press conferences Giuliani would have all the affected agencies represented "even if they didn't really contribute" and was effective in getting the office's message out to the public.

What type of Attorney General would Giuliani appoint?

Pointing to Griffin Bell, Jimmy Carter's Attorney General, Freeh argues there is nothing wrong with appointing a friend but what is important is finding ""an independent, smart, competent lawyer who's not afraid to tell the President he's wrong and when appropriate say, 'I can't serve any longer.'"

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