Wednesday, November 05, 2008

U.S. Park Police: The Eagle has Landed

An insight into the situation in the first minutes of the terrorism scenario as it played out at the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, is gained from a report by Chris Plante, the CNN producer and newscaster who was stationed in the Pentagon building that morning, where he was placed under gunpoint by officers of the Defense Protective Service. Then Plante was dissed by his own conglomerate when he tried to speak up about it.

Plant said at 9:48am,
"The U.S. Park police, and other Federal law enforcement department, has arrived in force on the scene. There’s a Park Police helicopter overhead, (19:20) every car that arrives at the gate where I was located, was being stopped by officers at gunpoint. Everybody is being forced out of their vehicles as they arrive at the Pentagon."
I began to wonder what these reinforcements were doing playing such a central law-enforcement role at the Pentagon---which has its own police force on duty, as well as being provided with their own high-level access to helicopter services---at such an early stage in what came as a complete surprise attack. Shouldn't the Park Police have been defending the monuments along the Mall, which is their lawful mandate? Instead, the Park Police helicopter, which Plante mentions, played not just a central role in the visual record of the medical response from that morning. After organizing a file on my computer, of images which I found online, depicting the response by helicopters, I realized that the Park Police didn't play just a central role in the medical response via air transport, so much as they turned out to be the entirely singular and exclusive agents of this helicopter function.


Both photos by Paul Haring

Because after a review of the image file, it became apparent to me that there was only this single instance of a Medivac rescue that day. Although it was photographed from many different angles, all are of the same flight, when two patients---one of whom we can see has his arms visibly burned, as he is wheeled past the view of television cameras---are loaded onboard and then seen departing for the hospital.

Photo by Michael Garcia of the Park Police Medivac

The use of a Park Police helicopter for medical evacuation came under some criticism after September 11, when a point was made that press ganging this equipment into service required it to be reconfigured in order to carry gurneys---a task which took only a few minutes, according to a semi-official retort in a Smithsonian Museum retrospective:
"The U.S. Park Police provided rapid helicopter assistance to the rescue efforts at the Pentagon. This helicopter was reconfigured in eight minutes and arrived three minutes later to transport burn victims to area hospitals."
Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Carmen L.Burgess of a Park Police helicopter evacuation.

These still images were verified by a "live" television video feed of the medical triage taking place that morning . Filmed with a camera controlled by military masters, it was shared between several outlets, although it was broadcast in its fullest form on the local CBS affiliate Channel 9, who also was the only outlet to claim authorship and proprietary rights to it on air. Starting about 10:05am, and televised intermittently over the next 13 minutes, various views of the staged activity along Route 27 were televised, with the helicopter seen landing at 10:11am, and lifting off again at 10:17am. Channel 9's Dave Statter narrates that scene:
"...the Eagle helicopter from the park police is landing, taking this man to the hospital, from my vantage point it looks like he has burns. Also from Arlington Fire and Rescue, we see some doctors, what appear to be doctors, on the scene, not sure if they are military or not, they seem to be helping with the injured. As you can see, Virginia State police are trying to move us back, but I think we've been able to hold them off for the moment. Again this is the E-ring of the Pentagon. Hold on a second Mike and Andrea, we're seeing a second man who clearly is burned being sent to that Medivac helicopter. As you can see they are rushing him down there. This is the second person we can confirm appears to have very serious burns."
At 10:15am (21:34), Mike Buchanan asks Dave a simple question: "Any word on casualties?" Dave Statter begins to answer,
"Other than seeing the two people we saw who were Medivac who had serious burns...um, I... have not...I can't confirm any others. They've been working on others, but we don't know what---certainly, anybody in those windows, or in those offices by those windows, you have to be very, very concerned about right now."
Statter must not have been paying close attention, because on the tape that his voice-over accompanies, we have witnessed a third casualty, being loaded into an ambulance. (Or maybe somebody whispered "plausible deniability" in his ear piece and he lost his train of thought.)

Photo by Dennis Whitehead for Corbus Park Police helicopter at the Pentagon on 9-11

But by his own admission, the only civilian journalist allowed access to the scenes of medical triage taking place outside of the Pentagon that morning along Route 27, says on tape that he can confirm only the two wounded casualties visually witnessed. Seen in this light, the use of a Park Police helicopter to perform the single rescue flight which took place that morning, takes on a wholly different meaning.

Park Police UT0090475 U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Mark D. Faram

The mission of the U.S. Park Police, as it is commonly understood, is to protect the White House, and Capitol, and the area which comprises the National Monuments and Memorials along the Mall, along with some prohibited airspace above them, which they routinely patrol---although they're not allowed any longer to give crowd estimates due to the competition, and "crowd-size envy" between the various political factions, which turn out demonstrations.

But the Park Police also functions as a kind of formal Praetorian guard for the sitting Vice President---in Dick Cheney's case, they officially protect him by the Vice President's home and providing him with escort. In sum, we are told, the U.S. Park Police are the agency mandated by law as responsible for providing for the security of the vice president.

Their special function that day was revealed by a Bill Line, the National Capital Region Communications Officer, who said,
"National Airport's Control Tower, normally the "nerve center" for directing any response to this type of incident, handed over all command and control duties of the air space to both U.S. Park Police helicopter pilots as thick, black smoke from the Pentagon blew directly toward and into National Airport's Control Tower, blinding the sight of workers there. For most of the rest of the day, U.S. Park Police helicopter personnel directed all air traffic into and around the Pentagon."
The years since 9/11 have not been especially kind to the Park Police force, with issues too numerous and relentless to enumerate. A good place to gain insights into their perspective of the events of 9/11, are in an Interview of Sgt. Ron Galey, of the U.S. Park Police, and in an article National Capital Region Contributes to September 11th Help Efforts.

Photo by Paul Haring, of the departing Park Police helicopter.

Another area of possible concern was the role the Park Police may have played in rumor mongering, and reports of false alarms, which plagued Washington that day. Repeatedly, notices of car bombs and other explosions bedeviled the Mall area. Even the Secret Service was responsible for calling in a report to the fire department that a plane had crashed into the White House! How they came to believe this to be true remains an unaddressed mystery.

At 10:13am on the CBS broadcast taped above, (19:30) Andrea Roane says, "Let's go to Frank Herzog who is near one of the most visible monuments in the city, the Washington monument, Frank what do you see, what do you hear?" Herzog replies,
"I'm on the west grounds of the Washington monument the area has been completely evacuated by Park Police. Needless to say downtown Washington DC, except for the vehicular traffic, which is bumper to bumper, the rest of the city has been shut down. It looks like a Sunday morning here, the Mall is absolutely empty. Park Police came through here about ten minutes ago, evacuated the entire area, and told tourists to go some place else."(19:30)
That is the background, which should be visualized that morning, when ceremonial Washington was shut down---emptied of its inhabitants by 10:00am by members of specialized federal law-enforcement agencies beholden to a corrupt administration. This was done to create a clean slate for the threats of terror, as "reports of a car bombing at the State Department," at 10:35am, and "a car bomb has exploded outside the US State Department," at 10:42am, with the cryptic, "Something has happened at the State Department, we don't know what yet. We hear it might have been a plane," at 11:03am.

Later that morning an altered Plante came back on air to delivery a sad coda to his earlier report. I feel nothing when I hear it. He's Winston now, after his rat-excitation has ended. But I am extremely grateful to Plante for the integrity he woke up with on Tuesday morning, and I fully understand his submission to authority.
PLANTE: "All right, the area to the west of the Pentagon has been evacuated further back by law enforcement and military officials as they anticipate a second aircraft arriving at the Pentagon. It has been deemed to be threatening enough where I saw at least one F-16 fighter jet in the air over the Pentagon, headed to the west, where the plane was reportedly coming in from. Again, they are saying here a second aircraft is expected to arrive at the Pentagon sometime soon. They take it seriously enough that they have scrambled at least one fighter jet that I saw, probably either from D.C. Air National Guard or the Maryland Air National Guard, both of which fly F-16s.

"The west front of the building of the Pentagon along Route 27 has now partially collapsed. About a 60-foot section of the building laterally has collapsed, the entire five stories. The building has obviously---the fire has, is scrambling inward in the building, toward the courtyard, and this wedge, as they call it, of the Pentagon, the westernmost wedge, was just refurbished, and was in fact reinforced for terrorist attack, and for just this sort of thing.

"I know that there were a significant number of injuries. I'm unaware of any numbers on fatalities at this point. People here who came from the building are suggest that surely there were fatalities, but I can not confirm any. I have spoken to a number of people that I know who've pulled people out of rubble. There were severe injuries, a number of helicopters here evacuating, injured people, and I'm told by one senior military source, that the plane in the side of the building has been tentatively identified as a Boeing 767, a full-sized airliner, Boeing 767. But that at this point, they are waiting for arrival of a possible second plane, which has been deemed to be a threat, and as I said, fighter jets have been scrambled to address that matter."
ACCAA The Arlington County After-Action Report inventories the timing of various pieces of equipment as they were dispatched to the Pentagon, without ever stating if any were ever put into use.They weren't.
"Mutual-aid medical evacuation helicopter support was provided by the U.S. Park Police (USPP), MedStar (Washington Hospital Center), and Inova Fairfax Hospital. The Air Traffic Control Tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport notified the USPP of the incident and helicopter Eagle I was dispatched at approximately 9:43 a.m. Eagle II launched 8 minutes later at 9:51 a.m. MedStar was notified by the Arlington County ECC at approximately 10:06 a.m., and launched one helicopter that arrived onscene at approximately 10:18 a.m. Inova Fairfax Hospital launched helicopter AirCare I at approximately 10:00 a.m., after notification by the Arlington ECC. A second helicopter, AirCare II, was launched at approximately 10:40am The USPP, MedStar, and AirCare provided a total of five helicopters."
Nonetheless, and I repeat myself, there was only this single example of medical transport via helicopter to occur that day--which took two patients to Washington Hospital Burn Center. Anything else was used just for show.

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