Watch Catherine on "Special Report"
It is what's known in security circles as a “National Special Security Event” or NSSE. That's a fancy way of saying it has the highest security designation, and the secret service is in charge of coordinating the overall plan. This is significant because it reflects administration concerns that highly symbolic events, those synonymous with our democratic process, are attractive targets for terrorists.
To that end, the Homeland Security department has set up its own command center, with more than 75 federal, state, and local agencies, at an undisclosed location in Boston. The Feds have poured more than 25 million dollars into each convention. While some security measures are standard, such as canine bomb sniffing teams, aerial and coast guard surveillance, others are more radical. For example, authorities have brought in x-ray machines, usually reserved for cargo shipments at ports, for screening shipments into the FleetCenter. These machines can detect chemical and biological agents, as well as radiological materials used for dirty bombs.
Perhaps, what was most telling was our one-on-one interview with Secretary Ridge, in which he said we are living in a dangerous threat period. "It is the most serious since 9/11 because of the credibility of the sources," Ridge said. "And then the indirect discussions that you pick up, a certain excitement or anticipation about an event this year in the United States."
While Ridge denies politics are involved in the recent warnings, he concedes that the current intelligence (or chatter) is not specific as to time, place, or method of attack. He suggests, for the first time in the many months I've interviewed him, that bin laden is still playing a part in operations aimed at the United States: "It does appear that this is, it would be directed from outside the United States and we have every reason to believe that it is within the hierarchy, possibly as high as bin laden."
This appears to be a very significant point. If there is an attack before the U.S. elections, critics are likely to charge that the administration failed to finish the job in Afghanistan before it took on Saddam Hussein.
On the return Air Force flight to Washington, the secretary had an informal chat with reporters and a question came up, "Do you ever lose sleep at night?" Ridge said he does not, largely because he can see the overall security picture in this country, and he knows more about what is being done at the local and state level, much more than most Americans realize. To me, this clearly gives comfort to the secretary during the heightened threat period, which may run through the end of the year.
Catherine Herridge is the Homeland Defense Correspondent for FOX News.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.