Ridge Claims That He Was Pressured to Elevate Threat Warning
Updated 7:42 p.m.
By Garance Franke-Ruta
Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, the first director of the Department of Homeland Security, says that he was pressured by other agency heads to raise the national security-threat level on the eve of the 2004 presidential election -- a move he rejected as having political undertones.
The disclosure comes in promotional materials for Ridge's new book, due out Sept. 1, in which he writes that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft tried to pressure him to raise the threat level.
"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge writes in the book, "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... and How We Can Be Safe Again," according to publishers Thomas Dunne Books.
He submitted his resignation within the month.
Another official in George W. Bush's administration, White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, told the Associated Press on Thursday that Ridge "was certainly not pressured," while a spokesman for Rumsfeld rejected Ridge's assertion.
"The story line advanced by his publisher seemingly to sell copies of the book is nonsense," Keith Urbahn said in a statement. "During the fall of 2004, Osama bin Laden and an American member of al-Qaeda released videotapes that said in no uncertain terms that al-Qaeda intended to launch more attacks against Americans. ... Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level."
Ridge's publicist, Joe Rinaldi, said Thursday that the former secretary was not doing interviews.
Ridge will also say in the book that his relationship with Rumsfeld had been distant, with the Pentagon chief rarely making himself available for meetings with his domestic security counterpart.
And Ridge will also reveal that he was never invited to a White House National Security Council meeting -- Condoleezza Rice was NSC director during President George W. Bush's first term -- that he was routinely "blindsided" by an information-withholding Federal Bureau of Investigation during Oval Office briefings, and that his efforts to establish regional Homeland Security offices in New Orleans and six other major cities in the years before Hurricane Katrina were thwarted by bureaucracy.
The man who oversaw America's airport screening was himself singled out for screening more than two dozen times, he will say.
Threat-level warnings became a subject of controversy in 2004 after one rise was declared just days after the Democratic National Convention that summer. The move was seen by some at the time as redirecting public attention toward an issue where Bush was stronger (terrorism) and away from questions about the war in Iraq being raised by challenger Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Some of the intelligence behind the alert was ultimately revealed to be three to four years old, though newly obtained.
"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland of Security," Ridge said at the time.
Posted at 6:18 PM ET on Aug 20, 2009
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