Sunday, May 16, 2010
On December 3, 2004, after three decades of dedicated service to the City of New York and to our country, President George W. Bush nominated me to become the second Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It was a privilege and an honor, and I accepted the president’s nomination with a strong belief that my experience and success as a public servant would make this country safer in the wake of a newfound enemy as we continued to defend ourselves in the war against terror.
A week after my nomination, I withdrew my name from consideration because the confirmation process was quickly deteriorating into a tabloid nightmare which threatened to make a mockery of everything I had ever accomplished. What began with failing to pay the payroll tax of my children's nanny -- which has plagued more than a dozen presidential cabinet nominees, past and present -- became a five and a half year nightmare of local, state, and federal investigations that resulted in a fifteen count criminal indictment against me.
For nearly three years, I prepared to go to trial to defend myself against substantially the same charges I had already faced in New York State Court. Then, just days before the federal trial was to begin, my bail was revoked and I was imprisoned. The judge threatened to disqualify my legal team, which both he and the government prosecutors had already done twice before and would have sent me back to square one for the third time with my savings now exhausted.
On November 5th, 2009, I was being held in pre-trial detention and financially helpless. I faced the prospect of remaining behind bars awaiting trial for what could have been more than a year while new court appointed lawyers prepared for my defense. As a result, I decided to accept a plea agreement offered by the government prosecutors. I pled guilty to eight counts in exchange for a sentence of 27 to 33 months, which many legal observers have opined as severe considering the allegations made against me in the case, especially considering my otherwise unblemished record of service to this country dating back more than 30 years to my days as a young GI in Korea.
Ignoring the signed plea agreement and recommendations made by the prosecutors, as well as the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Probation and my highly decorated service to the American people, the judge sentenced me to 48 months in federal prison – 15 months over the recommended and agreed upon sentence.
Words cannot express my disappointment in the prosecutors and the judge’s behavior, and his sentence that followed. I have repeatedly expressed remorse for what I may have done, however, unlike many, I can’t remain silent in the face of what I believe has been a gross injustice, which I pray will be remedied by an appellate court.
As I prepare to serve my sentence, I have had to likewise prepare Angelina and Celine, my seven and ten year old daughters for what is next to come and had to teach them that there are times when we are put in situations which are beyond our control and that no matter how undeserved, unsought, or unwanted, we must find the strength, courage, and perseverance to carry on and move forward.
I sat with them and watched the movie Rocky Balboa, for the sole purpose of having them watch one scene where Rocky speaks to his son and says, “The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are….it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward!”
When Sly Stallone wrote those words, he was talking about the challenges in real life and the principles of courage, strength, and perseverance.
In my life, I have been confronted with extraordinary challenges, from the age of three when I was abandoned by my own mother who was later murdered, to gun battles on the streets of New York City, through the aftermath of 9/11, to my work rebuilding a shattered Iraq, these are the principles by which I have lived.
My friends say that because I have persevered in the face of great challenge, I became a convenient target of personal and political attacks, most of which were waged by people that have never met me and know nothing about me other than the media headlines that they have read. As I have listened to my critics, I have often wondered, how they would have fared under the same circumstances and the same scrutiny.
I have been blessed with tremendous support, friendships, and loyalties that I will never forget, and mean more to me than anyone will ever know. To those that have been in my corner and have spoken up for me, written letters of support and that have prayed for me, I offer my heartfelt thanks. It is a humbling thing to have such support, and I will forever cherish it and try to remain worthy of it.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” I’m not exactly a stained-glass window, I don’t think I’ve sparkled or shined, and I certainly don’t claim to be beautiful, but I do think there is a light within me!
That light is my love for my wife, my children, and my country. It is a light that they ignited; they sustain, and will guide me through the dark times ahead.
And now, as I have told Celine and Angelina, “It is time to move forward,” and end this nightmare.
I pray for God to watch over my wife, my two little girls, and my family in my absence. I also pray that he brings us together again much sooner rather than later.
I pray for our country, its leadership, and the men and women who like my son, are on the front lines and in harm’s way everyday, protecting us from evil and defending the very freedoms by which we live.
Finally, I can only hope that history will judge me based on my 30 years of public service to our great nation, and not by tabloid headlines, my imperfections, or the mistakes that I may have made.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Over the past several years, many people have asked about the photo below and the story behind the American flag sitting on my desk. In order to answer those questions, the following is the journey of that flag - from the devastation of the World Trade Center site, to the heavenly skies on the Space Shuttle Endeavor and back to the people of the City of New York.
At 5:30AM on the morning of September 12, 2001, New York City Police Sergeant Gerald Kane and Detective Peter Friscia from my office, were assisting rescue teams at the heart of the World Trade Center site, at “Ground Zero.”
Sergeant Kane noticed a group of flagpoles on Church Street near Chamber Street, amidst the devastation that were still standing. The flags from the states of New Jersey and New York were still affixed to the poles, but one pole was bare. He then noticed an American flag had been blown off of the flagpole and was tangled upside down on a streetlight several yards away. Noting that the upside down position of the American flag was the universal sign for distress, Sergeant Kane was concerned that if the press or media published a photograph of the flag in that condition, it would be seen as an added victory memento for terrorists around the world.
The two men recruited a number of soldiers and firefighters in the area who hoisted a ladder to the top of the streetlight. Detective Friscia climbed the rungs of the ladder to the top, untangled and retrieved the flag and brought it down to the ground.
Four of the soldiers and their Lieutenant folded the torn, tattered and ash covered flag.
Not wanting to leave the flag in their vehicle which was parked several blocks away, they decided to bring it back to my office. Upon their arrival, they told my personal assistant, Janet Fitzpatrick, that they wanted to secure the flag in my personal office and she recommended that they write a note and leave it with the flag so I would know where it came from upon my return - and they did just that.
That day, I had spent that morning with Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the temporary command center in the New York City Police Academy. We then visited various hospitals and went on to Ground Zero, after which I returned to my office.
As I walked into the room, there was an extremely strong stench of smoke, like that of a burning building. I saw the flag sitting on the corner of my desk and as I got closer to look at it, I realized that the overwhelming smell was coming from the ash covered flag. There was a hand written note sticking out of one of the creases of the flag.
This is the flag that flew in front of the WTC at Church Street. It was blown off the pole and was tangled on a streetlight. We as well as some firefighters and soldiers recovered it. The soldiers folded it. In Israel you said that we can’t back down to terrorism. You are right. You lead and we will follow.”
Just as I finished reading the note and was looking at the flag, Tom Antenen, my Deputy Commissioner for Public Information walked into the office and without saying a word, leaned over and smelled the flag I held in my hands. I handed him the note.
That flag remained in my office for the next several weeks and with the help and assistance of Mr. Richard Cooper, the Program Manager of NASA's “Flags for Heroes and Families Program,” on October 10, 2001, me and Mayor Giuliani met with NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, at which time it was agreed that the flag would be transported onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-108) as part of its December 5-17, 2001 mission to the International Space Station.
Accompanying the WTC flag on the Shuttle flight were:
- A USMC flag recovered from the Pentagon attacks;
- An American flag that flew over the State Capital in Harrisburg, PA on the day of Sept. 11th;
- The shields of the fallen NYPD officers
- Patches, posters and an emblem from the FDNY
- Patches from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
- 6,000 small American flags to honor those lost and those that served in the response and recovery efforts for 9/11.
In November 2001, I asked Detective Michael Jermyn from my personal security detail to represent me and deliver the flag and the 23 shields (police badges) of the New York City Police Officers that made the supreme sacrifice on 9/11 to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Upon his arrival at his hotel, he requested that no hotel staff have access to his room, including the cleaning staff, during his two day stay. Upon hearing his request, a hotel manager and security officer appraoched him and asked if there was a problem and if they could be of assistance. Detective Jermyn informed the two men that he had custody of the United States flag that flew at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and for security purposes, he would feel better if no one was allowed access to his room during his stay.
Overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing the flag, the hotel manager upgraded the Detective's room to a two room suite and escorted him to the room where the flag was placed in the center of the bed in the second bedroom, almost as if the flag was "lying in state," pending delivery to NASA Headquarters.
In a moving ceremony the next day, the flag was turned over to NASA, from where it was later transported to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where Detective Michael Jermyn represented me and the NYPD to witness the launch and this historic event - from Ground Zero, to heaven.
On Flag Day, June 14, 2002, the American flag that once flew at the World Trade Center and the other items of memorabilia were returned to the people of the City of New York by Mr. O’Keefe and Commander Dom Gorie and the crew members of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-108), in a ceremony at the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History.
Sunday, January 7, 2007
Two vehicles loaded with fuel, propane tanks and nails, much like the vehicle-born IEDs in Iraq today, are found in London’s Piccadilly Circus, our equivalent to Times Square. Then two Islamic radicals slam a car loaded with the same into the Glasgow Airport in Scotland, while the US Department of Homeland Security is reporting that the Al-Qaeda chatter indicates their desire to commit an act of terror against the west that is a “spectacular event”, much like the September 11th attacks. The investigation in the UK has moved quickly and has resulted so far in eight arrests, most of who appear to be Muslim medical doctors.
In the last several days, the press and media, but more so the general public appears to be shocked by the recent events and the “spectacular” chatter. Many political leaders have expressed shock that most of the participants arrested in the UK terror plot were educated doctors.
What I don’t understand and what concerns me is, why the shock and disbelief?
The fact that the alleged participants in the UK plot are educated men shouldn’t surprise anyone at all. Don’t forget…Osama bin Laden was highly educated with an engineering degree, as is Ayman al Zawahiri his chief deputy in Al-Qaeda who studied behavior, psychology, and pharmacology at Cairo University graduating in 1974 and earning a Masters degree in surgery in 1978. Mohamed Atta and the other 18 men that banded together for the attacks on 9/11 were all studious, educated and well traveled, much like the suspects recently arrested and being detained by the British authorities.
Six years after 9/11, and after many attacks against the west and the many attempts that have been prevented since that day, we still have people in this country, including many political leaders, who refuse to acknowledge the continuing threat that we face from radical Islamists. Where have these people been?
Perhaps they missed Osama bin Laden’s threats prior to 9/11 or even his statements in its immediate aftermath. But surely they’ve heard at least one of Zawahiri’s twenty or so messages over the past five years, or Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s in Iraq before he was killed by the coalition, or Adam Yehiye Gadahn who recently threatened an attack that would make us forget all about 9/11.
So, is it that we are not listening or is it that we just don’t get it? My fear is the latter… and here’s why. Spectacular these days, do not mean jumbo jets flying into skyscrapers or oil refineries or the White House. It no longer has to be a nuclear device or dirty bomb. The FBI, the U. S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security have foiled some major events in the past five years and are getting better everyday. But what if one of these groups took another approach as they attempted to do in the UK? Coordinated attacks designed to create carnage and mayhem, but done so in four or five different cities around the country, like New York, Los Angles, Orlando, Chicago and maybe Miami. In a tourist site or God forbid a school like they’ve done in Beslan? Maybe they kill fifty to three hundred innocents’… men, women and children. Would that be spectacular? More than you can imagine. The economic impact on tourism, the airline industry, the stock market and every other financial indicator in this country would mirror, if not surpass, the impact of the attacks of September 11.
We as a people need to wake up and realize that we are truly at war with an enemy that is on the attack. It’s not a poverty stricken enemy as some would have you believe and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they could be living amongst us already as we’ve just witnessed at Fort Dix, New Jersey and in the United Kingdom.
Muslims are not our enemy… radical Islamic fundamentalists are. If we don’t understand it, then learn more about it. The western world needs to help promote the real Muslim clerics that teach true Islam and hold those clerics accountable that promote jihad and the killing of innocent people, Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
We are at war with an enemy that wants us dead because our religious, economic or moral beliefs differ from theirs and they want to martyr or kill themselves in this battle to prove their point. They have no rules, laws, guidelines or Geneva Convention, making everything including children fair game. If our will to fight this enemy is the problem, then our political leaders need to stop fighting each other long enough to fix it. If they do not and they’re more concerned about their political positions than they are fighting this war, then show them the door.
Beirut, 9/11, the USS Cole, our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Amman, Madrid, London, Glasgow, Ft. Dix, JFK and even Saudi Arabia. There is a war against us. When exactly are we going to get it?