Ridge Launches 'Operation Liberty Shield' As War Footing Steps Up
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2003 As President Bush delivered the final option to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Monday evening, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge launched Operation Liberty Shield.
Ridge told reporters today the operation would "increase security and readiness in the United States."
The government also put the nation's security apparatus on higher alert by raising the color-coded national terrorist threat index from yellow, or elevated risk of attack, to orange, or high risk of attack.
Ridge said the country is at higher alert for the third time at the "orange level" -- because of credible information obtained by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies and statements from fugitive al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"Bin Laden himself has said in recent weeks that [American] military action in Iraq would be a rallying cry, a potential call to others, not just al Qaeda," to attack American interests at home and abroad, Ridge explained.
Operation Liberty Shield combines national protective measures with the involvement and support "of federal, state, local and private responders and authorities from around the country," Ridge noted.
Heightened security measures, he said, will be broadly applied at the nation's airports, seaports, other parts of the transportation system, and infrastructure.
Ridge said Homeland Security officials would also intently watch computer networks, evidence of disease outbreaks, borders and food and water supplies.
Also, the nation's terrorist response and recovery teams "are mobilized, in position, and ready," Ridge emphasized.
State governors, he continued, have been asked, "to deploy the National Guard and other law enforcement personnel at critical locations around their respective states."
Ridge noted everyday citizens can help by staying aware and abreast of the news and taking emergency precautions outlined on the Homeland Security website at www.ready.gov.
He also urged people not to react to rumors.
"We will strive to get the facts out as soon as we can," Ridge concluded.