First Published: 2009-08-21

 
Bush raised 'terror alert' for political gains
 

Bush administration resorted to false 'terror' alarms to gain public appeal, diversion from unpopular Iraq war.

 

Middle East Online

By Olivier Knox - WASHINGTON

'Manipulated intelligence to cause fear in the public'

Former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the "terror alert" level to sway the November 2004 US election.

Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft pushed him to elevate the color-coded threat level, but Ridge refused, according to a summary from his publisher, Thomas Dunne Books.

"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge is quoted as writing in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."

Some of Bush's critics had repeatedly questioned whether the administration was using warnings of a possible attack to blunt the political damage from the unpopular Iraq war by shifting the debate to the broader "war on terrorism," which had wide popular appeal.

Fran Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser at the White House, disputed Ridge's account, saying: "There was never a discussion of politics in the terror alerts discussions in the four and a half years I was there."

Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, was the first secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security that the US Congress created in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.

He also says that Townsend called his department ahead of an August 1, 2004 speech to ask Ridge to include a reference to "defensive measures ... away from home" -- language that he read as being a reference to the Iraq war.

In those remarks, Ridge said he was raising the threat alert level for the financial services sector in New York City, northern New Jersey, and Washington DC, and went on to praise Bush's leadership against extremism.

"The reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan," said Ridge.

"Such operations and partnerships give us insight into the enemy so we can better target our defensive measures here and away from home," he said at the time.

He later publicly acknowledged that much of the information underpinning the new alert was three years old, stoking Bush critics' charges of political manipulation.

Townsend said that Ridge had sent her his remarks in advance of the speech and asked that she forward them around the White House for comment, and that he was free to disregard such the advice.

"The only reason I saw his words is that he sent them to me, and asked that I circulate them for comment," she said. "It was up to him, ultimately, what he was going to say."

But Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, a frequent critic of the color-coded alert system, said Thursday that Ridge's book "confirms our worst suspicions."

"Just like they did in Iraq, the Bush Administration manipulated intelligence to cause fear in the public to further its political goals," he said in a statement.

Ridge also details his frustration after the White House rejected his suggestion to establish department of homeland security offices in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and -- long before Hurricane Katrina -- New Orleans, according to the summary.

He also says he urged his successor, Michael Chertoff, to reconsider the appointment of Michael Brown as the head of the Federal Emergency Response Agency (FEMA), whose response to the killer storm drew widespread criticism.

Ridge also charges that he was often "blindsided" during daily morning briefings with Bush because the FBI withheld information from him, and says he was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings.

The book goes on sale September 1.

 

Horse-trading begins as Tunisia awaits formation of new government

Jihadists flock to fight on ‘unprecedented scale’

UK court says Libyan Abdul-Hakim Belhaj can sue over rendition

Syria accuses Turkey of ‘flagrant violation of sovereignty’

Global campaign to end female genital mutilation kicks off

US to examine troops exposed to chemicals in Iraq

African Union hits back at Somalia rape claims

New scare in Turkey as ‘suspect packages’ found

‘Insults against Netanyahu’ cause embarrassment to US

Kuwait online activist gets four years in jail for insulting judges

Heavy fighting in South Sudan sparks fears of humanitarian catastrophe

Sweden officially recognises State of Palestine

Egypt jails retired general for damaging national security

Israel closes al-Aqsa mosque to worshipers in rare move

Gaza civil servants receive delayed salaries

After US criticism, Israel vows no concessions to Palestinians

Libya internationally recognised PM opens doors of dialogue with rivals

Huthi rebels seize stronghold of Muslim Brotherhood in central Yemen

Will Nidaa Tounes shun Islamists in Tunisia government formation?

Egypt starts work on buffer zone along border with Gaza

Turkey Sultan unveils new palace: Another break with symbols of secular state

Heavy toll as ‘Islamic State’ fights for control of Syria oil field

Iran President suffers fresh setback with rejection of Science Minister

Nuclear deal or no deal: ‘Red lines’ lay bare internal divisions in Iran

Heavy security in Mogadishu as UN chief meets Somalia president

Fighters from Free Syrian Army leave Turkey to join Kobane battle

Israel denies banning Palestinians sharing buses

Kurd fighters leave northern Iraq base for Syria deployment

Jordan requests UN emergency meeting over Israel settler expansion

Jerusalem Mayor visits Al-Aqsa mosque prompting anger

Tunisia reinforces commitment to democracy with ‘transparent’ elections

Turkey ‘decides’ for Kobane future: No Kurds, no Assad... Only Free Syrian Army!

Bahrain suspends Al-Wefaq weeks before parliamentary elections

Huge game changer in Tunisia: ‘In-credible’ failure of Islamist Ennahda Party

Libya PM in Khartoum for talks with Bashir

PKK hijack truck seizing explosive substance

Saudi lawyers get jail time for offensive tweets

Ennahda concedes defeat in Tunisia parliamentary elections

Syria rebels launch assault on regime-held city of Idlib

Iraq peshmerga wait for Turkey stance to depart for Syria

Sisi enacts military trials decree to cover ‘existential threat’

US calls for online war against ‘Islamic State’

Donors pledge $8 billion for Horn of Africa

Acid attacks in Iran: Deputy of Judiciary Chief to lead investigation

Lebanon army enters Islamist stronghold in Tripoli