- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hard work by U.S. government officials has made the country safer now than before the Sept. 11 attacks, but luck has also played a big part in preventing another terrorist attack, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday.

“It’s primarily due to a lot of hard work by literally hundreds of thousands of people,” Mr. Ridge told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show on the release day of his new book, “The Test of Our Times.”

“But at the end of the day,” he added, “Maybe we’re just lucky.”

Mr. Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, also said the department he headed - created in the immediate aftermath of the deadly attacks - has improved since its rocky start in 2002, but the department still faces overlapping oversight by lawmakers on Capitol Hill that hampers its mission.

“With 86 committees and subcommittees … until they get their act together and streamline their oversight, it’ll always be very challenging for this department to operate as efficiently as it needs to,” he said.

The book, subtitled “America Under Siege … And How We Can Be Safe Again,” has stirred controversy since an Aug. 19 review stated Mr. Ridge was pressured to raise the color-coded “terror-alert level” the weekend before the 2004 election to improve President George W. Bush’s chances for a second term. Most of the questions this week Mr. Ridge has faced in TV and radio appearances promoting the book have focused on the controversy.

“Others made quite a splash by making comment without reading the book,” he said.

Mr. Ridge, 64, acknowledges he and the department faced the difficult challenge of being the “new kids on the block” when first dealing with other Cabinet officials on the threat assessment. But he added that such tensions are an important part of the Washington process and that nobody could single-handedly raise the threat level.

To read the transcript of Mr. Ridge’s chat with www.WashingtonTimes.com on Monday, click here.

Even Mr. Bush “could not unilaterally raise the threat level,” he said. “We made the right decision. We did not go up.”

Mr. Ridge said the country is safer and smarter since the 2001 attacks about terrorist threats, but it was the country’s complacency about another attack that compelled him in part to write the book.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “These are serious, strategic actors. And we are the primary targets.”

As proof, Mr. Ridge said terrorists returned to the World Trade Center in 2001 after a failed plot eight years earlier and that al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden has spoken of a grudge against the West that began in 1492.

“They don’t set their watches like Americans do,” Mr. Ridge said. “They’re not in a big rush. They’re a very patient crowd.”

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