When Tom Kenney misspoke in a post-9/11 interview with CBS News’ Dan Rather, he started a minor Internet firestorm that included allegations the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had prior knowledge of the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
If there were any doubts that those allegations were false, they have now been put to rest as a result of research done via the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
Rumors that the agency had prior knowledge surfaced following the Sept. 13, 2001, CBS interview. In that interview, Kenney, a FEMA contract employee, told Rather he had arrived in New York City “late Monday,” though the attacks there occurred at around 9 a.m. the next day, on Tuesday.
“We’re currently one of the first teams that was deployed to support the City of New York for this disaster,” Kenney said. “We arrived on late Monday night and went into action on Tuesday morning, and not until today did we get a full opportunity to work the entire site.”
Information provided through FOIA requests, however, show that FEMA had no personnel in place Sept. 10, 2001 – the day before Sept. 11, 2001 – which would have suggested the agency had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks.
As unsubstantiated reports about prior knowledge began to make their way into various news stories, chat rooms and columns – especially those posted online – WorldNetDaily investigated the claims and, in a Nov. 15, 2001, story, reported that FEMA officials denied the agency had urban search and rescue teams in place in New York City before the attacks.
According to a spokesman in the office of Vito Pizzi, who works in FEMA’s federal coordination office, a total of 16 teams were put on alert or activated the day of the attacks, not before.
However, that report failed to convince a number of Americans and, in response to continued questions and rumors, Devvy Kidd – former head of the now-defunct Wallace Institute – decided to dig a little deeper.
One piece of incorrect information caused unnecessary delay, however.
On June 6 of this year, Kidd received a reply from FEMA regarding an initial FOIA request seeking “a copy of [Kenney’s] deployment … orders for the time period of Sept. 1 through and including Sept. 15, 2001,” and “copies of any memos, directives or orders relating to his assignment in NYC as it relates to the [World Trade Center] disaster.”
FEMA officials denied any such paperwork existed, stating, “Liaison with cognizant personnel reveals that no responsive documents exist within the files of the Federal Emergency Management Agency relative to your request.”
Unsatisfied, Kidd filed an appeal with the agency four days later, citing – in part –WorldNetDaily’s earlier story and her own “suspicion that [Kenney] was probably a contract employee.”
Kidd received a second reply on Nov. 23. In it the agency stated that in WND’s original report, Kenney was misidentified as “Kennedy” – a mistake also made, but quickly corrected, by Rather during his interview.
That’s why FEMA initially found no information relative to Kidd’s request; she had submitted the wrong name because WND had originally misidentified Kenney. Kidd might never have known that but as a favor to her, FEMA officials went above and beyond her request to discover that contract employee “Tom Kenney,” not “Tom Kennedy,” was on one of the first two disaster teams called on to respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
FEMA identified Kenney as a member of the Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, and according to an agency press release, his squad, along with one from Pennsylvania, was among eight initially activated the day of the disaster. As FEMA stated in WND’s Nov. 15, 2001, story, eventually the agency activated a total of 16 teams.
Also, Kidd said she finally obtained an audio copy of the CBS News interview with Kenney that aired live on Sept. 13, 2001.
That means, she says, a bedraggled Kenney likely just got his days of the week mixed up when he spoke to Rather from the scene.
“This interview took place sometime on the 13th, two full days after all hell had broken loose,” Kidd said, noting that she has an audio copy of Rather’s interview. “Kenney sounds winded on the audio as if he had been exerting himself. It is more than likely Kenney, having worked virtually nonstop since his arrival in NYC, had his days run together, and his statement simply came out wrong.”
“At this time,” she said, “I’m fully satisfied that Mr. Kenney, an outside contractor, was not deployed until the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.”
She said she spent time researching the rumor because she said false information “paints the entire movement to restore our nation to a constitutional republic as disorganized wackos.”
“If people don’t have time to get their facts straight, they shouldn’t put out information, because if it’s wrong, it could also spur people on to do things they otherwise would never have done,” she said.