Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge says he successfully countered an effort by senior Bush administration officials to raise the nation's terror alert level in the days before the 2004 presidential vote.
"An election-eve drama was being played out at the highest levels of our government" after Osama bin Laden released a pre-election message critical of President George W. Bush, writes Ridge in his new book, "The Test of Our Times."
Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strongly advocated raising the security threat level to "orange," even though Ridge believed a threatening message "should not be the sole reason to elevate the threat level."
The former Pennsylvania governor also writes that he saw no reason for the move, which he now calls a bad idea, because additional security precautions had already been taken in advance of the election.
"We certainly didn't believe the tape alone warranted action, and we weren't seeing any additional intelligence that justified it. In fact, we were incredulous," Ridge said of the push. "... I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' "
The idea that an attack might take place had been discussed, he says. "But at this point there was nothing to indicate a specific threat and no reason to cause undue public alarm. ... It also seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country's safety."
In the end, the threat level was not raised.
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