Ridge: U.S. Must Assume al Qaeda in Country, Waiting to Strike
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2004 The United States must operate under the assumption that al Qaeda terrorists are already in the country, waiting to strike when they believe they can achieve success, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said today in New York City.
Ridge traveled to New York to meet with local and state politicians and financial executives following the Aug. 1 decision to raise the color-coded threat level to orange, or high, for parts of New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Speaking afterward to reporters at the Citicorp headquarters, one of the financial-service sector buildings specifically named as targets, Ridge said the law enforcement community is keeping its eyes on people they believe are connected or sympathetic to the terrorists' cause.
But with more than 600 million people crossing U.S. borders every year, Ridge said, "we don't have the luxury of waiting to identify somebody coming across the border." Rather, he said, "we just have to accept for our planning and preparation the notion that they are here, they are looking to attack us, and we need to do everything we can every single day to try to detect, deter and prepare for it."
Ridge stressed that there's no way to gauge exactly when terrorists will attack. Intelligence reveals no specific attack plans, he said, but "shows plans to disrupt the democratic process throughout the election year." This could be interpreted as broadly as the election year or as narrowly as Election Day, he acknowledged.
"But we need to understand that we shouldn't be limiting ourselves or expanding ourselves to that timeframe," he said. "We know this is an organization that plans in advance and prepares in its patience. These are serious folks. And they are patient folks. There is a lot of resolve. And when they are ready to move, they will move."
Ridge insisted that Americans have even more resolve to resist terrorism. "We are more serious, more patient, more highly motivated and more resolved," he said.
The secretary praised employees at the Citicorp headquarters for coming to work despite their concerns about security. "The terrorists wish to make Americans who live in freedom live in fear," he said. "And just by showing up at work, you have made a powerful statement that they will not succeed."
Ridge said many steps already taken by federal, state and local governments since Sept. 11, 2001, "have made it much more difficult for the terrorists to achieve their broad objectives." He pointed to extra layers of security, improved interagency cooperation and information sharing and measures to secure and protect the U.S. economy against terrorism.
He called on the American public to remain a part of this effort, "to do your part, to remain vigilant and ever-watchful for suspicious activity and behavior, and to report that activity."
The secretary called the intelligence that led Homeland Security officials to raise the threat level for specific areas "a solemn and serious reminder that we are a nation at war, and the terrorist enemies we face will not stop until we defeat them."
Ridge called the intelligence "the most significant, detailed pieces of information about any particular region that we have come across in a long, long time perhaps ever."
"That's why we had to share this publicly," he said.
The secretary dismissed arguments that the information released was too dated to be relevant. Although some reports may be two or three years old, he said, the latest information was gathered in January.
Ridge also refuted claims that the release of the information was politically motivated. "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security," Ridge said. "This isn't about politics. It's about confidence in government telling you when they get information."
Releasing this type of information, he acknowledged, "is always a judgment call." But he said "the detail, sophistication and thoroughness" of the intelligence convinces him that the department took the right step in informing the public. "If you had access to it, you'd say we did the right thing," he said. "Government should let the public know about situations like this."
Ridge acknowledged that the information may cause some Americans to feel anxious and fearful, but urged them to "press on with resolve and perhaps a bit of defiance" toward terrorists.
He charged Americans "to say to our enemies: 'We know what you want to do, but we are not going to let you do it. We will not become "Fortress America." We're going to continue to lead our lives and keep moving forward and hold fast to our freedoms. Nothing will ever change that.'"