August 21st, 2009
05:49 PM ET

Bush officials sought to raise terror alert before '04 vote

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/08/21/ridge.terror.level/art.tomridge.gi.jpg caption="Ex-Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge says he was pushed to raise the terror alert before the 2004 election."]


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.

Keep reading...

Filed under: Osama bin Laden • President George W. Bush • T1 • Terrorism
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. kathy

    I believe that these alerts possibly were raised in an effort to remind the American people of the dangers we face. This may not be kosher, however if the people believed that the dems had the answer, it really would not have mattered. However if you are going to rehash history in this way, I challenge you to also examine the Clinton admin. On two very important days, the day Monica testified and the day Clinton testified two actions occured, seemingly from nowhere. One we bombed the "aspirin factory" supposedly to get the then unheard of Bin Laden, and two we bombed in the "non war" of Kosovo...which disappeared from the radar as quickly as it arose. So if we are going to look backward, look all the way back

    August 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  2. nea

    The Republicans know how to use there fear tactics they used them back then with G. Bush and they are using them now with health care.they wanted to get Re-Elected back then and even now they want to get back in the white house and they will do any thing to get it. They said themselves they want to break President Obama. They feel if this President gets Health Care Reform then they loses. But they are not that smart with this one if what he and the Democreats are proposing are so bad and they feel its a failure then go ahead and make it easy for them dont debate and try to stop them let them screw this up and they will have the white house in 2012 but thats what they are afraid of. This President seems to be looking out for me of many americans because its obvious that he is not focus on 2012 he is trying to fix whats broken now.Then the Republicans have a nerve to say its increasing the deficit but if they was that much concern the why not offer Gov. of California some advice.

    August 23, 2009 at 12:49 am |
  3. kw

    How easy it to bash,trash and mock the last administration. All you ___holes are unharmed, safe and happy. All that can change in the blink of an eye. I would not do that no matter which party is in office. these people are only trying to sell their books.

    August 22, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  4. ronvan

    Is this really true or just a statement to raise book sales? What gets me is that these people, who were put in positions of power, can seem to say almost anything without consequence. CONSEQUENCE's, that is what must be applied so that these things either stop, or people will THINK before they speak.

    August 22, 2009 at 9:26 am |
  5. J.V.Hodgson

    Now the Media reports non events as important.
    The only result is frankly that his book will sell more copies, and taints further an already tainted administration, but it is history which is unchangeable and actually never happened as the threat level did not change!!
    Oh I forgot!! Its August and not enough politics to talk about in the Media!!

    August 22, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  6. Kevin

    When Senators mysteriously vanish from the campain trail, wag the dog occurs continuously, markets crash, deficits run uncontrolled, oil producing countries fall under U.S. control and gas prices rise, thousands of innocent civilians die in the bowels of war, thousands more die in our own streets for lack of help in emergencies, Americans lose jobs to inexpensive labor overseas, I say we have alot to fear. Raising the self serving (and self created) terrorist alert system before a stolen election is the least of our worries. Tom Ridge, please tell us more. We the people want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    August 22, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  7. Sara Ray

    Gee, the Republican party used scare tactics for political gain...big shocker.

    August 22, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  8. Ella

    When George Bush and Dick Cheney were elected to office, this country was thrown into a black hole. Not only did they lie to the American people, they killed an innocent man (Sadam), two of Sadam's sons, and Sadam's 13-year old grandson–all innocent people. Saudi Arabians were responsible for 9/11, not Iraq.

    I do believe the U.S. will have to pay for the innocent blood that has been spilled in Iraq.

    I think we can get a better idea of Bush and his comrades leadership by reading an article titled "Doubts Cast On Al-Qaida's Scope in the Tuesday, 01/25/05, Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I think they are Machiavellian neoconservatives.

    August 22, 2009 at 1:42 am |
  9. Weldon

    Like so many Bush policys.....I sensed the truth LONG BEFORE it was aired...and finally known. Many of my friends have said the same. This time it was ex...Homeland Security Chief: Tom Ridge. A late call but better late than never. Our (so-called) Democracy will rise or fall on the transparency of our leaders. Obama is a breathe of fresh air to this Democrat (convert from Republican Party).

    Thank you AC360.

    August 22, 2009 at 1:23 am |
  10. Charles

    Some people just don't get it. Y'all our so busy worrying about the negative, than looking at the true reasons. You really don't know why it was done. Think of this, what would have happened if the terror level wasn't raised what would have happened you just don't know so stop complaining and except it!! To be honest I would love to see how some of you would handle it being president!!

    August 22, 2009 at 1:17 am |
  11. Denice Smith

    Did Ms Townsend REALLY think we couldn't see through her motives? I wonder if logic and actually reading the book ever even entered her mind! I'm just aghast!

    August 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm |
  12. George Archibald

    I was a senior investigative reporter for The Washington Times in August 1984 and assigned to cover President Bush during his "vacation" at the ranch in Crawford, Texas. On the third day of my arrival at the hotel in Waco, the president went to Baylor University for an economic summit where he brought his entire Cabinet. Then the entire White House press corps flew to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and proceeded to historic, picturesque Mount Rushmore for a staged White House event where President Bush unveiled his proposal for homeland security legislation on a stage set up below the historic place where the heads of the presidents are carved in the mountain.

    Tom Ridge, who I had previously covered as a congressman from Pennsylvania was there and made sure Josh Bolten and Karen Hughes briefed me on the homeland security proposal being unveiled. I actually stood with Ridge and Bolten as the president made his remarks and have photograhs that I took myself during the occasion.

    Ridge personally told me "on background" as we stood there together at Mount Rushmore in the presence of Josh Bolten and Karl Rove that the Mount Rushmore event was staged politically to soften up Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Tim Johnston of S.D., on the forthcoming bill to realign the government and create the Homeland Security Department with Ridge as secretary. Daschle and Johnston were both there in the audience at the Mount Rushmore event and worked the national press there are as hard as Bush and the White House people, Scott McLellan and Dana Perrino.

    So Ridge is telling the truth in his new book that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Bush officials sought to raise terror alert before the 2004 presidential election vote, as stated in your CNN website

    August 21, 2009 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Mitra

    A big difference between raising the alert and scaring people to vote for a corrupt administration out of fear, than passing a healthcare bill which is long overdue and move on to the rest of the country's business which thanks to Bush administration is in a lot of trouble. This has to pass now and no doubt about it.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  14. Bert Macy

    Paul Bogala may give you what you want, but is so unbeleivable he should be dropped. He doesnot give you credabilility. He makes you look bad . Just report the news and you will go far. No, your not there yet,

    August 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  15. Christine Roberts

    Tom Ridge was a PA Governor who was respected by both Democrats and Republicans.

    Bush took him out of that position, used and abused him just like he did to Powell and Whitman-Todd.

    He allowed terror to rain; sharing the office of the Presidency with the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, while disregarding the advice of the pragmatists in the room.

    I have every reason to believe Tom Ridge and virtually no reason to believe Bush, based on their conduct before and after leaving office.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  16. rita

    Does no one see the interests behind the fear tactics. As Eisenhower said beware of those who profit from war. Say military industrialists.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  17. Jerome Edmund Lord

    It is no surprise to us. We watched in Washington for the years of the Bush Administration the constant effort to make Americans fear the future. It was always clear to a great many of us that this "pressure" towards fear " was part of the Bush-Cheney effort to turn us towards their political aims and goals....We did not succumb....but we thought it was the worst possible use of Presidential power to try to make Americans afraid....and thus to make them agree that the Bush Administration's desire to pursue war on as many fronts as possible was legitimate.... it was never legitimate....and to think that the warmonger of all warmongers, the frail and pusillanimous Cheney....had never had so much as a minute of military service...nor any sniff of military service....this effete warmonger of all....how he and Georgie loved the glories of War.....Ridge has done us all a service by telling the truth........

    August 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  18. Jessie

    Thank you Paul Begala, for keeping it honest. You really hit the nail on the head regarding Tom Ridge's accusations. Thank you for holding the Republicans responsible. And as always, thanks Anderson.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  19. matthews HARRY

    Anything connected with former secretary Rumsford et. al. is extremely suspect. I, as a registered Republican, tend to believe former Secretary Ridgel as ist relates to comments in his book.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  20. David

    Why are we so concerned about what happened in cabinet meetings? I'm sure that every day meetings are held where issues are raised for political purposes. At the end of the day, the President must make a decision on what is best for the country. President Bush did what was right. I'm sure President Obama makes those same decisions every day as well.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  21. Philip

    Using a quote by Vice President Biden pertaining to ex-Mayor Giuliani that I will attribute to ex-President Bush, everything Bush said was a noun, a verb and 911.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  22. Carol

    Finally the truth about Bush and his cronies.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:14 pm |
  23. lampe

    What is the difference between raising a terror alert, which might just save people's lifes, or telling people if we don't pass this Stimulus Bill right now, our unemployment rate will rise. Like Obama did. In my eyes a lie is a lie.

    August 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm |
  24. corvedacosta

    Listen, if you ever begin to break what really went on in those years we would have heart attacks. This story is mild though. Were they that desperate for the win?

    Thanks CNN>...

    August 21, 2009 at 9:09 pm |
  25. Susana

    Nothing the Bush administration did surprises me anymore. He got re-elected playing on fear. He (Cheney) suspended our privacy rights and the American public allowed it and worse. Geneva conventions?

    August 21, 2009 at 8:46 pm |
  26. lampe

    What difference does it make now? Nothing happened and if you read the whole thing, Ridge said nothing happened. This is water under the bridge. And I'm sorry, but I would rather they had raised the alert, and error on the side of caution, then to have been caught off guard, and have another Sept 11th.

    August 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm |
  27. Dan,Daytona

    "Should they have a terror alert (the Chinese?) system,or is their Authoritarian Rule enough,…? Food for thought,and worth chewing on for a bit,…"

    Choke on that a bit... You've been reading Rosie's blog too much...

    August 21, 2009 at 7:54 pm |
  28. Christina Saenz

    This was completely partisan. To raise the alert will associate foreign aggressiveness with "republican." They knew they were going to lose so they wanted to help their team. We should raise the alert every time there is a House of Reps election or Senator

    August 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm |
  29. Annie Kate

    Bush and Cheney raise the terror alert for political reasons? Bush leave out a passage praising him and his anti-terror agenda on the eve of a big election? Whoever would believe it? Unfortunately, most of us probably do believe Bush and Cheney would do these things as well as others to create a political advantage for themselves at election time.

    August 21, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  30. earle,florida

    Just think, when in the near future, China has a "Terror Attack" on their own sovereign territory, somewhere,and somehow they feel it's of National Interest ,and Security to react-aggressively. They send troops into Africa,and I mean all of Africa's near term,far term interest,that they have accumulated over the last decade. Very similar to what America has done to the middle-east,but this time it parallels our own foreign interest,leaving us mute,...? Should they have a terror alert (the Chinese?) system,or is their Authoritarian Rule enough,...? Food for thought,and worth chewing on for a bit,...

    August 21, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  31. JC- Los Angeles

    Is anyone still taking Tom, Kaleidoscope, Ridge seriously? He's right up their with Michael "Brownie" Brown of FEMA fame in the annals of American leadership.

    August 21, 2009 at 7:03 pm |
  32. Mari

    Really? BIG surprise! Considering that Bush ran on a "fear platform".

    August 21, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  33. Diane Tehan

    Hey CNN

    Lets hear more about Van Jones and his past as an Avowed Communist. AFter all he is Obamas new Green Jobs Czar.
    Now he has president Obamas ear.

    Forget about the past and Ridge, and his book and Rumsfeld, etc. That is water under the bridge. Lets get on with what is going on now.

    August 21, 2009 at 6:17 pm |