POLITICS

Giuliani Feeling The Heat Over 9/11 Radios

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By now, it is fairly well known that on 9/11 the New York City Fire Department's radios simply did not work. In fact, it was the same exact equipment that had malfunctioned in the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center. Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films have the most definitive summary of this.

The fact that no radio upgrade was made in the eight-year interim is something of an albatross for Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, considering he was mayor of the New York during that very time period.

And on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos the topic came up yet again. Only this time, Giuliani absolved himself by claiming it would have been "impossible" to give the FDNY working radios.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They make two main charges. Number one, that those firefighters in the north tower, many of them lost their lives because their radios didn't work. They also say you ended the recovery efforts too soon.

GIULIANI: Well, the radios that you're talking about weren't put online for three, four, five years after. So, it would have been impossible for me to have those radios ready. It took the city two or three more years...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they had malfunctioned in 1993.

GIULIANI: But even with the new equipment, it took another two or three years for those radios to be put online. So it would have been impossible for us to have gotten them online before that, given the fact that it took so long afterwards.

Ok. So, Giuliani seems to be saying that after the city purchased the new equipment, it took at least three years for it to be operational. Hence, the FDNY could never have gotten the new radios in time anyways and Giuliani deserves no blame.

Of course, there were eight years between the two attacks on the Twin Towers. Whatever.

But according to Wayne Barrett's book "Grand Illusion", the real problem was not that there wasn't enough time to make the radios operational. Pre-bidding conferences were being held in 1997 after all. Rather, the problem was that the city was blindly dependent on Motorola to outfit the FDNY with the most modern version, even if it took longer (which it did) and the equipment was untested (which it was). As Barrett, a Giuliani critic, writes:

Under Giuliani's watch, the Fire Department had tried to equip its firefighters with portable radios from Motorola that didn't actually exist when the FDNY took the first steps to order them. The radios were so 'undeveloped' according to a subsequent investigation, that the company didn't even put them on its sales list until months after the order was placed in 1999. When the biggest potential fire department customer in America asked for samples, Motorola couldn't send them even a preproduction model for three months. It took three years for Motorola and the department to actually put the first of the 3,818 new radios in a firefighter's hands. Then they boomeranged instantly, failing to communicate a half dozen 'maydays' from a trapped firefighter.

Unlike the handie-talkies the Fire Department had used since the 1960s, these new digital radios, the XTS 3500R, were actually computers that turned the familiar real-life voices of firefighters into urgency-deaf monotones that had a prerecorded and often indecipherable quality to them. No large fire department in this country or anywhere else had or would ever purchase them. The contract for them appeared so wired that only one other company, General Electric/Ericson, showed up at the 1997 pre-bid conference, and FDNY officials decided it was ineligible to participate.

GE/Ericsson's protest letter to city officials, including Giuliani himself, went unanswered. Warren Stogner, the salesman for Ericsson, charged in the letter that "only Motorola can meet the specifications" because language in the bid specified their product and required radio features proprietary to the company. No one heard him then, but years later, Alan Hevesi, the independently elected city comptroller, examined the process and concluded that there was "a willful attempt to circumvent the contract system," withholding over $8 million still due to Motorola. Tom Von Essen, the commissioner who issued the XTS 3500s, was forced by the unheard 'maydays' to pull them out of the firehouses and conceded that there were 'problems' with them that had to be corrected. Yet Giuliani attacked the motives of the Democratic comptroller as 'political,' defended his friend and commissioner, called the radios 'state of the art,' and insisted there was nothing irregular about the contract.

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