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Posted by on Aug 20, 2009 in At TMV | 14 comments

Tom Ridge: At Least Some Color Terror Alerts Seemed Political


Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge in an upcoming book will make an allegation that seemingly will confirm to many what Bush administration critics have long suspected: the administration’s attempts to raise color terrorism alerts smelled political to him.

The New York Times reports:

Tom Ridge, the first secretary of homeland security, asserts in a new book that he was pressured by top advisers to President George W. Bush to raise the national threat level just before the 2004 election in what he suspected was an effort to influence the vote.

After Osama bin Laden released a threatening videotape four days before the election, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pushed Mr. Ridge to elevate the public threat posture but he refused, according to the book. Mr. Ridge calls it a “dramatic and inconceivable” event that “proved most troublesome for all of us in the department.”

The provocative accusation provides fresh ammunition for critics who have accused the Bush administration of politicizing national security. Mr. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, were locked in a tight race heading into that final weekend, and some analysts concluded that even without a higher threat level, the bin Laden tape helped the president win re-election by reminding voters of the danger of Al Qaeda.

Keith M. Urbahn, a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld, said the defense secretary supported letting the public know if intelligence agencies believed there was a greater threat, and pointed to a variety of chilling Qaeda warnings in those days, including one tape vowing that “the streets of America will run red with blood.”

“Given those facts,” Mr. Urbahn said, “it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level. Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place.”


The most sensational assertion was the pre-election debate in 2004 about the threat level, first reported by U.S. News & World Report. Mr. Ridge writes that the bin Laden tape alone did not justify a change in the nation’s security posture but describes “a vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion” on Oct. 30 to do so.

“There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None,” he writes. “I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.”

Mr. Ridge said that confirmed for him his decision to resign the next month but he provides no evidence that politics motivated the discussion. Until now, he has denied politics played a role in threat levels. Asked by Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times if politics ever influenced decisions on threat warnings, he volunteered to take a lie-detector test. “Wire me up,” Mr. Ridge said, according to Mr. Lichtblau’s book, “Bush’s Law.” “Not a chance. Politics played no part.”

There have been insinuations and allegations about the Bush administration using terrorism alerts to deflect bad news or rally the nation using the “fear card.” For instance read this list. And these allegations.

The difference between these previous examples and Ridge’s upcoming book: 1. It comes from someone who was inside the administration. 2. It comes from someone George Bush originally reportedly considered for Veep. 3. It comes from the person who headed Homeland Security.

The book will likely be painted as a book by a “disgruntled former employee” (which begs the question: does this mean other employees are “gruntled?). Liberals, moderates and some non-talk radio political culture Republicans, and Republicans who don’t feel a vested interest in defending Bush will consider it one more piece of a puzzle that suggests the terrorism issue was manipulated– as real as the threat was. And Bush’s staunchest defenders will most likely try to discredit Ridge either before or after his book comes out.

The real blow is to Bush’s legacy.

When historians sift through the verbiage of new and old media stories, opinion columns and blog posts written by people who have a vested interest in painting the Bush administration one way or another, and videos and radio clips of screaming head and talk shows, they’ll balance all of it. And the fact Ridge was a rising Republican start and head of Homeland Security will likely mean that the verdict will be: the terror alerts were likely used in some instances as a political tool. Add to that the GOP’s rhetoric at the time suggesting that Democrats really didn’t want to fight terrorism and the use of the terrorism issue as a political wedge issue is brought into even sharper focus and seeming confirmation.

The Christian Science Monitor’s The Vote blog notes that the “push back” against Ridge and his allegations has already begun.
UPDATE TWO: An more rebuttal from Bush administration associates.

For more blog reaction go here.

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  • Leonidas

    No surprise here. Fear mongering is the latest fashion in politics and not really that new. The girl picking daisies commercial was a doozy, war on terror was another, the Stimulas or “Armageddon” a third, etc.

    Am I suprised, again no, especially not from Bush/Cheney but you will have to pardon me, I’m a moderate Republican whose more conservative friends have diagnosed with Bush Derrangement Syndrome. Of course none are licensed doctors.

  • daveinboca

    Hilarious. Dear Leader Brobambi’s Health Care is in free-fall and his approval numbers below 50% according to Pew and the NYT says “Look over there, five years ago…..”

    What a trashing this one-termer is getting, but the MSM is trying to avoid noticing King Korng in the parlor.

    • Lit3Bolt

      daveinboca translated:

      All politicians are crooks, I just want MY kind of crook back in charge.

  • StockBoySF

    I thought everyone knew this at the time. Funny how they kept raising terror alert levels yet nothing ever came of them.

    Should have been called “Bush Approval Ratings Alert”… when the GOP thought Bush was in danger of losing public support they’d change the “terror alert” level to yellow or red…. When in fact it was the level of Bush’s (un)popularity.

    No wonder it was never green under Bush.

  • rudi

    NYT says “Look over there, five years ago…..”
    No Dave, Tom Ridge is pushing a book. But, this isn’t the first time we heard this, just this time from somebody on the inside.

  • Silhouette

    Right. And what about the “seemingly coordinated string of bombings” in Bagdhad the day before Obama’s secret visit there last April? You know, right when Cheney was hotly protesting that we needed to keep troops there? I’d hate to think the enemy was somehow responsive to Cheney’s create the type of turmoil that would make Obama feal the fear personally and change his mind..

  • TomDegan

    Sure, they exploited America’s utter post 9/11 paranoia for the most base political reasons. Ridge’s book is not news. The only thing newsworthy is the fact that someone who was in the know is finally admitting it. He should have written his book five years ago.

    I knew what was going on in the hours leading up to the election of 2004. It was so freaking obvious, you had to be an idiot to miss it.

    On the first posting on my blog on June 2, 2006, I wrote the following:

    “PREDICTION: George W. Bush will be remembered in history, primarily, as the first (pray last) former chief executive to go to federal prison. Sound crazy? Stay tuned.:

    I stand by those words.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  • kritt11


    I don’t believe that Bush or Cheney will ever see the inside of a federal pen— or Rove for that matter-no matter how richly they deserve it. They have too many friends in powerful places, and Obama has no desire to inflame partisanship during his administration. Investigating and prosecuting Bushco would do just that.

    What Ridge’s book does is validate another theory of the “loony left”-that the Bush regime used 9/11 in a crass way to hold onto power. Ridge is like another Colin Powell- a solid moderate Republican who was used by Bush and Cheney in their cynical agenda.

    I believe that if you investigate you would find that a lot of the “evidence” that took us into Iraq were forgeries ordered by Tenet at Cheney’s request. We already know that the document that stated that Niger was supplying uranium to Saddam was a forgery. Cheney is the only one who has the motive to produce those kind of documents, and he and his minions plotted against Joe Wilson and his wife after Wilson spoke out.

  • narciso

    Right, you folks forgot the Bin Laden tape, and the pre-election attack that year in Madrid, and what would happen the following summer in London, by part of the same network involved in the August 2004

  • DLS

    It’s “terrorism,” not “terror” [sic]. [sigh]

    The Democrats have misused government before to affect elections (and have been more notorious for this, as they have for other misconduct for which the Dems are the party famous for it). Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve prior to the 2000 elections to try to win votes for an ailing Gore was and remains the worst thing so far (other than the Dems’ effort to steal the White House in 2000 after they lost it).

    Other people in the meeting Tom Ridge attended say there was no political manipulation of the terrorism alerts and threat level.

    Discussion of raising the alert level happened after the bin Laden tape. (Other events also happened that another poster has already listed.)

    How hypocritical for the liberal media and others to attack the Bush administraion when the Dems’ health care effort and other efforts typically involve fear and dishonest attempts to use fear (an emotion) to sway the swayable (solid Dem and Dem-leaning) voters. Dishonest fear-mongering (alarmism and even outright catastrophism, so disgusting) is routine with environmental extremist “global warming” or “climate change” politics (including the related politicized science) with overwhelming spreading of fear and the _true_, by the Left, Assault on Reason.

    A variation of that approach has been used all this year to scare the susceptible to rationalize and justify the immature, unintelligent, frantic rushing to approve all kinds of hurriedly written, poor-quality legislation.

    And we see this with health care now.

    How convenient to find a very-hyped opportunity to project the lefties’ truly identified behavior on others, which by association is another way to mischaracterize and slander the opposition to the current health care silliness — to mischaracterize and slander the mainstream, more than ever this year so far.

    There may be something to this, but there may not really be — so far, it looks enormously hyped and speculated or imagined, largely.

  • DLS

    “Ridge is like another Colin Powell”

    I disagree, K, but I’ll add that there is a small possibility that he may be like Paul O’Neill (if you recall Mr. O’Neill’s account, it was unflattering about the Bush administration) or also, actually, like John Ashcroft (who was reported to have been ill in the hospital when people approached him to coerce him into signing his approval for questionable conduct or even torture, when he was not the person actually in charge of the Justice Department at the time, but whose signature was sought for clout — i.e., for political purposes).

    I say “small” not because the analogies to O’Neill or to Ashcroft are poor (they are not; I say they are good and better than an analogy to Powell) but because the accusations of political misuse of government power here remain “small” and hyped and speculated or often imagined by lefties currently.

  • DLS

    “isn’t the first time we heard this, just this time from somebody on the inside”

    Paul O’Neill’s account (as told to Ron Suskind) of the Bush administration is unflattering, as I just wrote.

  • DLS

    “Hilarious. Dear Leader Brobambi’s Health Care is in free-fall and his approval numbers below 50% according to Pew and the NYT says ‘Look over there, five years ago…..'”

    Bush-and-Cheney-bashing is normally now just fringist idiot stuff, but this is handy as it provides both a distraction from the Dems’ current problems (they rushed too much, neglected and evaded too much, and reached too far, and have offended the mainstream and even lefties, they have been so bad this time, with health care) and a handy object to which to direct venom and therewith impugn the mainstream that isn’t loyally [pant-pant-pant, WOOF!], robotically, and stupidly accepting anything and everything with “Dem” and currently, “health care” being “offered” to us by Washington (to be passed over our many objections).

    In this (naturally, hyped from the start; we don’t know what happened and it’s already close to 100% assured to be much less what and than the liberal media and lefties elsewhere are saying it is) the Demmies (and their campaign auxiliaries) have both a red herring (ignore health care and the problems; lookie here, people!) and (given the hype and the mis-extending of the issue) a straw man (or the Dems might insist were they honest, straw _person_) that can be extended to mischaracterize yet again the US mainstream as well as the few real righties, and those on the Left who are straying from the play book.

  • kritt11

    I disagree D– it is always important to know the truth of our history.
    The Dems may have overreached or been clumsy in their approach to ruling— but that is a different matter. Most presidents have their most notable failures in the first 2 years of their administrations- because most of them underestimate the strength of the opposition or its ability to affect the mood of the country.

    Obama is on a learning curve right now and we’ll have to see how fast he can adapt to the political realities.

    I don’t see anywhere in your posts an admission that the opposition is determined to defeat him with as much misinformation as is necessary, but that is clearly the case. If the country really doesn’t want health care reform, wouldn’t the truth suffice??? Instead we have nutjobs like Palin out there talking about death panels and other phenomena that exist only in the right wing’s imagination- and not in any proposed legislation.

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