Ridge: No Heightened Alert for Sept. 11
WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge does not anticipate that the country will be on heightened alert -- at least not according to his department's color-coded scheme -- on Sept. 11.
Ridge said, "we know we are a primary target" and that the commemoration of the worst attacks in American history will be a day of "recollection, prayer and remembrance." He does not expect to raise the level of alert from the current "elevated" code yellow alert.
The Department of Homeland Security Web site describes green as "low" alert, blue as "guarded," orange as "high," and red as "severe." The system was put into place to gauge the level of terrorist threat to Americans following last year's attacks.
But as for next week's somber anniversary, Ridge said terrorists are more likely to strike based on their readiness and opportunity for success -- not because of a date that has sentimental value to Americans.
His words come as top Democrats rallied Wednesday in favor of a Senate bill that would create a new Homeland Security Department -- the biggest reorganization in the federal government in 50 years.
But a showdown is imminent over whether thousands of new employees for the new agency would automatically be able to join federal unions, which Democrats support, or whether some employees would be barred from labor groups to give the administration greater hiring, firing and assignment authority.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, who joined the rally Wednesday, said, "we cannot allow the creation of the Department of Homeland Security to be an excuse for depriving federal workers of their collective bargaining rights."
The Senate began debate on the homeland security bill Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said if the Republicans were unable to strike down the union issue in the Democratic measure, they expect Bush to veto it -- a move the president has promised.
"The president of the United States will veto it, and we will sustain his veto," Lott told reporters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.