Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge unleashes a slew of revelations in his new book, according to his publisher, but a Bush security adviser says they're overstated.
Ridge's publisher, MacMillan, advertises that Ridge reveals in The Test of Our Times, set for release Sept. 1., that he "effectively thwarted a plan to raise the national security alert just before the 2004 Election"; was instructed to insert text into a speech relating homeland security to "defensive measures away from the U.S." ("read: Iraq," the publisher writes); his efforts to integrate FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before Hurricane Katrina were shot down; frustrations with the White House for rejecting his proposal to establish Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, and New Orleans; the FBI withheld key information from him; and run-ins with Donald Rumsfeld.
But a Bush security adviser today rebuffed Ridge's claims of politicization and instruction to connect DHS to President Bush's Global War on Terror.
Frances Frago Townsend, who coordinated homeland security matters at the National Security Council under President Bush, said that Ridge is "absolutely wrong" in contending that electoral politics ever played a role in raising or lowering the threat level.
It was Townsend who established the process that led to the Homeland Security Council making recommendations to President Bush. The meetings, she said today, were often intense, and cabinet secretaries often disagreed with one another. (Incidentally, Karl Rove was never in any meeting to discuss the threat level, according to Townsend.)
After the debate, Townsend would bring the counsel's consensus recommendation to President Bush. "Never in almost five years at the White House was I aware of the president doing anything but accepting the recommendation of the council," she said. "Politics played no part in any discussion of the council. And I think the president was better served by virtue of the debate that took place."
As to the specific allegation that Townsend ordered Ridge to insert a line in a speech linking homeland security priorities to Iraq, Townsend said that Ridge had sent the speech in question to the White House, asking for advice. "So I called him said, here's what I think should go in it. It wasn't an order. I didn't regularly see his speeches in advance. He made speeches all the time without running it by us." Late today, a spokesman for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that a discussion of the terrorist threat levels was amply justified by the public statements of Al Qaeda members at the time.
" The storyline advanced by his publisher seemingly to sell copies of the book is nonsense. During the fall of 2004, Usama bin Laden and an American member of al-Qaida released videotapes that said in no uncertain terms that al-Qaida intended to launch more attacks against Americans. 'The streets of America will run red with blood,' al-Qaida warned. Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level. Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place."