Published July 14, 2004
BOSTON – Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) said Wednesday the warnings he gave the public last week about a possible terror attack before the elections have nothing to do with politics.
"We don't do politics at Homeland Security," Ridge said at a news conference, adding that the department's job is to transmit credible information to the public. Those who suggest otherwise have reached "rather cynical" conclusions, he said.
With the Boston Harbor (search) behind him, the secretary made the comments after touring the Democratic National Convention site and the security operation command centers. At the first political convention after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, counterterrorism officials have set out to make the Democratic gathering a display of security, using both human and technical tools.
"Our goal is to deter any potential attack with multiple layers of security," said Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, a search for Democrat John Kerry (search) on the department's Web site brought up a link to a news release from a GOP congressman critical of the presidential candidate. Government officials blamed a technical glitch at the government's official Web portal.
Some Democrats have accused the Bush administration of playing politics with information about terror threats. Ridge's news conference last week came the same day that Sen. John Edwards was named as the Democratic vice presidential pick.
In Boston, Ridge said security levels for the Democratic convention will likely surpass the Salt Lake City Olympics in cost and certainly in complications to secure the densely populated area.
When asked if he would feel safe bringing his family here during the event, he said: "You bet." But he plans to attend neither party's convention.
Ridge said counterterrorism authorities are still getting "credible information" indicating al-Qaida is interested in attacking the United States to disrupt the democratic process. He said his department has no specific information about time, place and type of attack.
Talking to reporters later, Ridge said he cannot narrow down what type of attack may be coming. But, he said, "The toughest attack to defend against is suicide bombers" whether wearing a vest or driving a truck.
The focus of extremist groups appears to be on an attack that would inflict mass casualties, but that does not mean they would not try smaller suicide bombings, he said.
The Democratic convention, with its expected 35,000 visitors, is designated a national security special event. That makes it eligible for federal money and heightened security overseen by the Secret Service.
Ridge toured the main security command center, where roughly 80 agencies will be located. He rode over some of the roughly 40 miles of roadways that will be shut down at certain hours.
With security planned to be so high, some terrorism experts believe that the conventions will not be a target.
Still, some Democrats -- with tickets in hand -- are worried.
Sandra Ruliffson, a California delegate from the suburbs of San Francisco, questions whether the government can protect the conventions. "We shouldn't be in denial about this -- obviously we shouldn't be taking this lightly. It's kind of put a knot in my stomach," Ruliffson, 57, said in a recent interview. "I want some assurances."