Saving Wall Street Took Top Priority After 9-11
By James Donahue
The 9-11 terrorist attack on the
World Trade Center was designed to hit America at the heart of its capitalistic god, the center of its commercial dealings
not only throughout the nation but with commercial centers around the world.
That complex housed several major
Wall Street firms, including Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, one of the nation's largest investment banking operations. About
32 brokerage firms were headquartered there, plus Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, a major bank securities company, and Cantor
Fitzgerald, which handled about a quarter of the government's bond trading, had major operations in those buildings.
Needless to say, stock markets around
the world plunged dramatically as news of the attack reached them.
There were vital communication links
leading from there right to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, located just a few blocks away. The destruction of
the Trade Center was a brilliant attack, and came very close to wrecking the U.S. and even the world economic structure in
one fell swoop.
Sending workers into the deadly
smoke, soot and ash laced with asbestos and other toxins, became a matter of national security. Even the many people still
trapped in that rubble, still alive, and calling for help on their cell phones, were not considered as important as the job
of linking those communication lines and getting the stock exchange running again.
Few people know this. It is a sad
truth, however. Workers, now dying from lung diseases inflicted by inhaling those toxic fumes, were deliberately lied to about
the safety of the air and sent into harms way to get that stock market running again. People trapped in smoking, collapsing,
and flooding debris under all the rubble were left to perish because the priority was to save the financial interests of the
The order to put Wall Street at
top priority, even over the lives of victims still trapped in the rubble, may have come from very high places.
Former White House anti-terrorism
official Richard Clarke, in his book "Against All Enemies," wrote that on the evening of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush
told several staff members, including Clarke, that "I want the economy back, open for business right away, banks, the stock
market, everything tomorrow."
This order also was written about
by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in yet another book. He said that on Sept. 12, one of his aides told him "the President
wants to open the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow."
When Bush was told about physical
damage found in the Wall Street infrastructure, he said: "As soon as we get the rescue operations done up there, shift everything
to fixing that damage so we can reopen."
If this statement is accurate, the
order to bypass the trapped people under the rubble did not come from his lips. Yet in the course of the events that followed
that meeting, this is exactly what was done.
Early on it was learned that the
Federal Reserve's nationwide electronic funds-transfer system was still in an operating condition. This system handles hundreds
of billions of dollars work of transactions among financial institutions every day. Even though the Federal Reserve Bank is
located only two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood, employees returned to their desks after being evacuated to
the bank's underground vault. And to help calm the fears of the business world, it was announced that the Federal Reserve
System remained open and operating.
Incredibly, the financial markets
in Manhattan began trading again on Sept. 17, four full trading days after the Sept. 11 attack. Workers returned to their
jobs on the exchange to the acid smell of smoke and soot, and sat in the grey dust that filtered through the walls. But the
exchange was up and running.
This was accomplished at the cost
of the lives of an untold number of people who were not rescued from the deep, now flooded parking levels, train walkways,
and other places where they became trapped when the towers collapsed.
Instead of digging to rescue living
survivors, many of the volunteer workers were directed to dig to and repair the ports that once linked the stock exchange
to those crushed offices.
Stories were told about a large
number of cell phone calls from people trapped under that rubble, all pleading for help. One woman had a baby with her and
she said water was rising around her. She appealed for someone to save her. She and her baby perished.
The executive order to put workers
at risk in the rush to save the national economic system might be understood, when examined from an overall perspective. The
national security of the country was at risk here, yet the health and lives of innocent victims of this attack, and the health
workers who volunteered their time, should also have been given a high level of priority.
That the former head of the Environmental
Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman, is now being targeted by the Sierra Club for possible liability in the hundreds
of cases of severe and deadly lung and respiratory problems emerging from those frantic days of digging through the rubble
was only to be expected. These good people went into that dust-filled air after her office issued a report that the air was
safe to breathe.
The Sierra Club report charges that
the EPA covered up results of federal tests that pointed to widespread health threats to not only the rescue workers, but
also the people who lived in the downtown area and the office and store workers who went back to their jobs.
Not only were dangerous levels of
asbestos found, but also traces of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a known carcinogen. This information was not disclosed
by the EPA until two years after the attack, when they were published in an obscure scientific journal.
Eight weeks after 9-11, a survey
by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that government workers at a federal building several blocks
north of Ground Zero were suffering from numerous physical ailments that included shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea,
severe headaches, rashes and coughs.
Also childhood clinic visits by
children at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Chinatown jumped from 306 to 510 in the year after the attack.
The long-range effects of the careless
actions by government leaders who should have been thinking after that attack, may be much more massive than anyone is willing
to admit. In the interest of money, workers were pushed back to their jobs when, instead, the entire area should have been
evacuated until the air tested safe. And the people who went into the breech should have been properly protected with masks
and full body hazmat gear.
Now the death toll will continue
for years, and we may never know the final tally.