2009-09-03 / Local & State

No Pressure To Raise Terror Alert Level

Tom Ridge:

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in an interview that he did not feel "pressure'' from the Bush administration to raise the terror alert level before the 2004 presidential election, but that officials "expressed an opinion'' different from his.

In a new book, "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... and How We Can Be Safe Again,'' Ridge says that despite the urgings of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft he objected to raising the security level, according to a publicity release from the publisher.

But in an interview with the Erie Times-News, Ridge said that no one pressured him to raise the threat level. Rather, he said, "they expressed an opinion'' that ran counter to his.

"There was no pressure at all. There was a judgment call on their part and on my part,'' Ridge, 64, a former Pennsylvania governor and an Erie native, told the newspaper.

In the book, Ridge discusses what caused the internal debate over the threat level - a new videotaped message from Osama bin Laden.

"A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued. Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by Rumsfeld. There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics''' he wrote.

In the newspaper interview, Ridge said that no one person had the unilateral authority to raise the threat level. In the end, the alert level was not changed.

The memoir, from Thomas Dunne Books, goes on sale Tuesday.

After the publicity release came out earlier this month, Bush's former homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, said politics never played a role in determining alert levels.

Ridge told the newspaper that the book is both a historical account of the fledgling Department of Homeland Security and a caution for the future.

"Just because there's been a lapse of time doesn't mean the enemy is still not planning against us,'' he said in the interview. "We can never, ever be complacent. We need to keep that edge about us - because they're not going away, and neither are we. But they're not going to take our freedoms from us.''

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