A second top DHS official calls it quits
To the average Joe, Gen. Matthew Brodericknot that Matthew Broderickwas just an anonymous Department of Homeland Security official.
No more. This week, Broderick became the second top-level DHS official to resign in the wake of blistering criticism over the government's sluggish response to the beast that was Hurricane Katrina. Although DHS insists Broderick is stepping down to spend more time with his familyDHS Press Secretary Russ Knocke said his move bore "absolutely no relationship" to Katrina criticismBroderick's decision might indicate just how much pressure the White House and DHS are feeling about their behavior during the crucial 24 hours after the storm made landfall.
Broderick manned the Virginia-based DHS nerve center during the Katrina calamity. He headed the Homeland Security Operations Center, the hub that synthesizes intelligence from the ground and passes it along to the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"It's my responsibility . . . to inform these key personnel," Broderick told a Senate panel investigating the Katrina response. "If they did not receive . . . information, it was my responsibility and my fault."
And as investigators who have already reported on Katrina have indicated, timing here was crucial. Broderick's information center did not determine that the levees in New Orleans had broken until around 6 a.m. the day after the storm. The message was passed on to Robert Stephan, a DHS assistant secretary, at 11:15 a.m. A report released by a Republican House committee said that in the first 24 hours after the storm, "White House involvement could have spurred earlier evacuation . . . for those trapped by the floods from the breached levees."
"If 9/11 was a failure of imagination," Leslie Phillips, a staffer for Sen. Joe Lieberman, told U.S. News at a hearing before the Senate panel, "Katrina was a failure of intelligence."
Broderick, of course, had an unenviable task. He told the Senate that in that first day, "getting the correct information was very difficult." And tapes released this week indicated Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco told officials in a conference call at shortly after noon the day the storm hit, "I think we have not breached the levee at this time." Still, critics have cited a damning drumbeat of details they say should have led to an earlier conclusion on the levees.
Former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown said he informed the White House of widespread flooding and problems with the levees around 11 a.m. the day the storm hit. And that same day Coast Guard officialswho had planes flying over the city within hours of the storm's landfall sent an E-mail at 1:15 p.m. saying that "a levee in New Orleans has been breached, sending 8 feet of water into the Ninth Ward."
One FEMA official even flew over the city in a Coast Guard plane around 5:30 p.m. and snapped pictures of broken levees, ostensibly to prepare for a Brown press appearance the next day.
"He said there were conflicting reports," Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota said earlier this month of Broderick and his response the day the storm hit. "But this is about as hard to refute as anything I can imagine."
A Democratic staffer on the committee insists the issue of intelligence failures is a key part of what Senate Democrats want to conclude when they release their exhaustive review of government foul-ups during Katrina. Portions of that report will be released next week. Chertoff, for his part, has stood by Broderick during his ordeal.
"He's spent more time running emergency centers and handling crises for the Marine Corps than anybody I've ever met," Chertoff told the Senate in February. "I trust him implicitly to sift information."