Warehouse E

The Money God

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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 nation.

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.