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Bush's homeland security secretary speaks out on terror alerts

Tom Ridge says in his new book that he was pressured by other administration aides to raise the threat level in the weeks before the 2004 presidential election.

August 21, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says in a new book that he was pressured by other members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet to raise the nation's terrorism alert level just before the 2004 election.

Ridge says he objected to raising the security level despite the urgings of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, according to a publicity release from Ridge's publisher. In the end, the alert level was not changed.

But Ridge said the encounter persuaded him to follow through with his plans to leave the administration; he resigned on Nov. 30, 2004.

Bush's domestic security advisor, Frances Townsend, said Thursday that politics never played a role in determining alert levels.

Two tapes were released by Al Qaeda in the weeks leading up to the election. She said they contained "very graphic" and "threatening" messages.

Townsend said any time there was a discussion of changing the alert level, she first spoke with Ridge and then, if necessary, called a meeting of the Homeland Security Council.

The group then made a recommendation to the president.

"Never were politics ever discussed in this context in my presence," she said.

Ridge's book, "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege . . . and How We Can Be Safe Again," will be released on Sept. 1.

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