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Ridge Outlines How, Why Terror Threat Level Was Raised

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2003 – Federal law enforcement organizations -- and some state and local authorities -- ramped up vigilance when the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded national terror alert level was raised May 20 from "elevated," or yellow, to "high," or orange, the top domestic anti-terrorism official said today on Capitol Hill.

When the terror alert level went to orange, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge remarked in testimony before the House Homeland Security Select Committee, the amount of protection at federal government buildings and facilities nationwide was enhanced and increased.

Illustrating the heightened alert status, news reports filed today cite the deployment of U.S. combat jets and air defense missiles in Washington as part of anti-terror exercises, as well as boosted security at stateside military installations.

These activities follow reports that a senior al Qaeda official purportedly issued an audiotape May 21 that encourages Muslims to kill Americans and Israelis, with declarations of additional attacks.

Enhanced domestic anti-terror measures aren't being limited to the National Capitol region. Ridge pointed out to House Committee members today that some major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have adopted the federal terror alert system.

And, "states like New Jersey and others," Ridge said, have also adopted the federal terror alert system.

Consequently, "one of our biggest challenges, I think, as a country," Ridge asserted, "is to accept the notion that from time to time we want to give general information to the public" regarding the terror threat status in the U.S.

However, he emphasized, the color-coded alert system is primarily a declaration to nationwide law enforcement and security personnel that "we want you to engage in either more or less enforcement and security activity."

Every day, U.S. intelligence officials gather and analyze terrorist threat information, Ridge noted. Four times now, he pointed out, the aggregation and examination of such information from credible sources has caused the government to raise the terror alert status.

When analysts come across credible information suggesting a terrorist attack on America is imminent, Ridge said, the President's Homeland Security Council is called together. That body is comprised of "quite a few members of the president's Cabinet," the secretary noted.

Ridge said he attended such a meeting May 20, an occurrence that shortened his testimony before the House Homeland Security Select Committee.

Within 45 minutes after leaving Capitol Hill for the White House meeting, Ridge noted, he and other Homeland Security Council members recommended to the president that the terror alert level be raised to high.

The president concurred, and "accordingly, we went to 'orange,'" Ridge recalled, noting, "That is how we go about making that decision."

Ridge pointed out that the information possessed by U.S. officials doesn't specify the exact "time, place and manner" of a potential terror attack on America.

The combination of current intelligence information, the recent terrorist attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, and the release of the purported al Qaeda audiotape message convinced national leaders the terror alert level needed to be raised, Ridge noted.

"And that's precisely what we did," he said.

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