Security measures ‘buying time’ before new plot, says Ridge





By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 17 September 2004

The top US homeland security official said yesterday that measures introduced since the September 11 terrorist attacks to prevent future atrocities amounted to an effort to “buy more time” before another plot.

In an interview with the FT, Tom Ridge, secretary of the department of homeland security (DHS), said: “Our job, every single day, is to buy more time.”

Mr Ridge rejected accusations that the decision to raise the terror threat level to orange – one below the maximum – in early August, after a threat to US financial institutions had been uncovered, had been a political move.

He admitted that while the administration viewed the threat as “credible”, information was “sketchy and incomplete”. The August decision came after data on a computer belonging to a terrorist suspect detained in Pakistan revealed that five US-based financial institutions had been scouted as possible targets.

But UK officials criticised both the US and Pakistan for divulging the details, warning that the aim among some US officials had been to exploit the threat in the run-up to the US election.

“Some people saw the raising of the threat level [in August] through the political prism, as a means of disrupting the momentum built up at the Democrat convention,” Mr Ridge said. “It wasn’t.”

But he admitted that the anger expressed in London had been justified.

“I think the consternation expressed by some British officials was warranted,” he said. “When information is divulged, it does complicate your law enforcement and can make it more difficult to get a conviction. I can appreciate the potential consequences of somebody talking about something in public.”

However, the fury of UK officials has not disrupted plans to expand UK-US co-operation in counter-terrorism efforts. Mr Ridge said yesterday that the DHS planned to strengthen these ties by establishing its own direct links with UK officials.

“We want to set up a joint contact group. Hopefully we will get the same kind of instinctive, collaborative relationship that the military has. We need that kind of relationship,” he said, adding that the DHS planned to hold joint exercises next year with UK officials involved in crisis management and issues related to cyber-security.

“There will be information sharing about terrorists, discussion of best practices. We want to link up and be as close and intimate in our collaboration within the DHS as other agencies are,” he said, referring to the long-established relationship between MI6 and the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the two countries’ police and legal officials and MI5’s relationship with the FBI.

Some UK officials have been concerned that the burgeoning number of US government departments could create complications over intelligence-sharing and lead to information being lost in the system. However, the expansion of UK ties with the DHS drew a positive response by Whitehall officials yesterday.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.