Ridge's Book: Rumsfeld Wanted Alert Raised

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has had Tom Ridge's new book for two weeks now, and they've got more information about Ridge's description of a pivotal terror alert threat meeting. He blames Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft.... doesn't seem like any of the Bush political folks were involved:


Osama bin Laden had released a videotape with one more ominous sounding but unspecific threat against the United States. Neither Mr. Ridge nor any of the department's security experts thought the message warranted any change in the nation's alert status.

" . . . at this point there was nothing to indicate a specific threat and no reason to cause undue public alarm," he writes.

But that view met resistance in a tense conference call with members of the intelligence community and several other Cabinet officers including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensured. Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Rumsfeld."

Noting the correlation found between increases in the threat level and the president's approval rating, Mr. Ridge writes, "I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' "

The dispute remained open at the end of the call. Mr. Ridge's aides carried the word to the White House staff that the threat escalation would court accusations of politicizing national security. Mr. Ridge's view finally prevailed.

"I believe our strong interventions had pulled the 'go-up' advocates back from the brink," Mr. Ridge writes. "But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington's recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security."

This was not the former governor's first unsatisfying encounter with Mr. Rumsfeld.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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