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Profile: US Coast Guard

US Coast Guard was a participant or observer in the following events:

At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Coast Guard cutter ‘Joshua Appleby.’The Coast Guard cutter ‘Joshua Appleby.’ [Source: Harry Craft III / US Coast Guard]The US Coast Guard is running a “mass casualty exercise” based around the scenario of an explosion, possibly caused by terrorists, on a cruise ship in Tampa Bay, Florida, which is about 50 miles north of Sarasota, where President Bush is visiting an elementary school this morning. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council HazMatters, 10/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 1/13/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/8/2002; Local Red Cross News, 9/11/2008] The exercise is being conducted by the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Tampa, in conjunction with Carnival Cruise Lines, Hillsborough County, and the City of Tampa. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council HazMatters, 10/2001 pdf file] The Tampa Bay chapter of the Red Cross and the local fire department are also involved, and more than 100 volunteers are participating. [Local Red Cross News, 9/11/2008; Merrill, 2011, pp. 253]
Exercise Involves 'Possibly Terrorist-Related' Explosion on Ship - The exercise is based on the scenario of an explosion occurring in the engine room of a cruise ship that has 3,500 people on board, just after the ship has passed under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge into Tampa Bay. The explosion is “possibly terrorist-related,” according to Steve McGuire, a Red Cross volunteer who is participating in the exercise. The ship is anchored just south of MacDill Air Force Base, and then a boat, the Coast Guard cutter Joshua Appleby, brings out firefighters and equipment to tackle the fire. Helicopters are used to evacuate the mock casualties from the ship. The casualties are taken away for simulated triage and transportation to area hospitals. The exercise is “a very elaborate drill,” according to McGuire. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council HazMatters, 10/2001 pdf file; Local Red Cross News, 9/11/2008]
Exercise Possibly Continues until 10:00 a.m. - As the exercise is about to begin, Janet McGuire, the public affairs and marketing director with the Tampa Bay chapter of the Red Cross, is called by her husband, Bernard McGuire, who tells her a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. Minutes later, he calls again and tells his wife that a second plane has hit the WTC. She immediately calls the director at her agency’s disaster operations center and requests that the exercise be canceled. Author Will Merrill will later comment, “People might think that Tampa was also under attack if they suddenly saw fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars congregating downtown” because of the exercise. [Tampa Bay Times, 9/13/2006; Merrill, 2011, pp. 253] However, according to Steve McGuire, the exercise continues until “about 9:30 or 10 a.m.” [Local Red Cross News, 9/11/2008] If correct, this would mean it likely continues until after Bush is driven away from the elementary school in Sarasota, at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and is possibly still taking place when Bush takes off from the Sarasota airport on Air Force One, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Bernard McGuire, US Coast Guard, Steve McGuire, Carnival Cruise Lines, County of Hillsborough (Florida), Janet McGuire, American Red Cross, City of Tampa

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US Coast Guard reports having received distress signals from three aircraft that are over the Atlantic Ocean, but these signals are soon determined to be false alarms, and one of the supposedly distressed aircraft is reported as not even flying on this day. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26, S-29 pdf file]
Three Planes Issued Distress Signals - At 11:18 a.m., it is reported on an FAA teleconference that the Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, has received distress signals from United Airlines Flight 947, Continental Airlines Flight 57, and Air Canada Flight 65. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26 pdf file]
Command Center Told to Notify Military - Fifteen minutes later, at 11:33 a.m., Jeff Griffith, the deputy director of air traffic at the FAA’s Washington, DC, headquarters, passes on the news about the three planes in a phone call with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. Griffith confirms that the distress signals received by the Coast Guard were from planes “in the Atlantic,” and instructs White, “Would you please make sure that NORAD is aware [of the three aircraft], and also the Services Cell,” meaning the Air Traffic Services Cell, a small office at the Command Center that is manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). White replies, “I’ll do it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Flight Heading to Canada - Around the same time, according to a 2002 FAA report, it is reported on the FAA teleconference that United 947 is now heading toward Gander, in Canada, and is being managed by the Gander Area Control Center, which is the Canadian facility responsible for transatlantic flights. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-28 pdf file; MSNBC, 3/12/2010] However, a transcript of FAA communications on this day indicates that it is in fact the Continental Airlines flight that is heading toward Gander. According to that transcript, beginning around 11:40 a.m., White discusses the three suspicious flights over the phone with Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says Continental 57 was originally destined for Newark, New Jersey, and air traffic controllers “have a track on the target” for this flight, which indicates that it is now heading to Gander. However, White says, controllers are “still looking” for the other two aircraft reported by the Coast Guard. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Planes Found to Be Safe - At 11:46 a.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that “[a]ll three aircraft that the US Coast Guard reported hearing distress calls [from] are accounted for,” and all of them are fine. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-29 pdf file] A couple of minutes later, White updates Davis on what is now known. White says one of the aircraft that was reportedly transmitting a distress signal, Air Canada Flight 65, was never even airborne. He says it “landed last night and was scheduled to depart today, but the flight’s canceled.” He adds that another of the flights, United 947, has “returned to Amsterdam,” in the Netherlands. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Finally, at 12:27 p.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that Continental 57 has “landed in Gander.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-33 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, US Coast Guard, Gander Area Control Center, Jeff Griffith, John White, Doug Davis

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Plane’s tail hangs from the Bank of America building in Tampa, Florida.Plane’s tail hangs from the Bank of America building in Tampa, Florida. [Source: Anomalies-Unlimited]Fifteen-year-old Charles J. Bishop, a high school student from Tarpon Springs, Florida, steals a small aircraft. As soon as the plane takes off, the air traffic controllers alert the United States Coast Guard and MacDill Air Force Base. Despite repeated warnings from a helicopter dispatched by the Coast Guard, the small plane continues on until it collides with an office building. The plane crashes between the 23rd and 24th floors of the 42-story Bank of America Tower in Tampa at 5:00 p.m. Before the incident, he is authorized to do a pre-flight check but not to get in an aircraft alone.
Investigation - After the crash, investigators discover that the teen had a troubled past. Officials rule out terrorism although eye witnesses say that the plane makes no apparent attempt to avoid hitting the building. Officials finally suggest that the crash is an apparent suicide. In addition, a note found in the wreckage states that he voices support for Osama bin Laden. However, there is no evidence that the teen has any connection with any terror group. Later authorities confiscate a computer from Bishop’s parents’ house to figure out what motive is involved in the incident. Moments after the incident, President George W. Bush is briefly informed about the incident and two unrelated crashes that same day. In April 2002, transcripts obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reveal new details about the incident, which include how close the small plane came to a Southwest Airlines flight.
Other Consequences - Bishop’s mother files a $70 million dollar lawsuit against Roche Laboratories, who makes an acne medicine called Accutane. According to the lawsuit claim the medicine has side effects such as depression and suicidal actions, which the claim states was the cause of the incident. Also, numerous security measures are taken in response to the incident. The FAA releases a security notice on January 6, the day after the incident. The notice includes security and regulations pertaining to underaged flight students. In addition, the FAA and other similar aircraft organizations propose more security of flight schools and small aircraft. While authorities state that the crash is due to an “abuse of trust” rather than a security breach, others argue for the need of increased security due to the simplicity of such actions. [Anomalies-Unlimited, 7/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Charles J. Bishop, US Coast Guard, Osama bin Laden, Bank of America Tower (Tampa), MacDill Air Force Base, George W. Bush, Roche Laboratories

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Coast Guard issues its second Katrina-related safety bulletin, ordering all oceangoing vessels to leave port immediately and reiterating its notice that the affected waterways will be closed no later than 2:00 am Monday, August 29. [US Coast Guard, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Coast Guard orders most vessels to leave several Gulf Coast ports and prohibits vessels from entering the ports, in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard warns that all waterways will close no later than 2:00 am Monday, August 29. [US Coast Guard, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Coast Guard Admiral Robert Duncan, head of the Eighth District in New Orleans, deploys cutters, helicopters, and other vessels today, and requests additional forces from the commander of the Coast Guard’s Eastern Area, in Norfolk, Va., which is responsible for everything east of the Mississippi, according to Coast Guard officials. In response to Duncan’s request, Jayhawk rescue helicopters from Coast Guard locations along the Eastern Seaboard take off today. They will follow the hurricane to the Gulf Coast and arrive just behind Katrina. “We don’t have to get approval to execute,” according to Richard J. Dein, a retired Coast Guard commander and a search-and-rescue specialist. “The Coast Guard is organized by geography. All of those districts act autonomously. They each have a command and control center. What you [have is] a ready response network.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005 Sources: Richard J. Dein] }

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, Robert Duncan

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

William Crouch, Vice Commodore of the Coast Guard’s Auxiliary Eighth District Central Region, states that boats, radios, aviation units will be ready to respond “based on the District’s Contingency plan which has been in effect since Hurricane Ivan.” According to Crouch, “units from outlying areas are preparing to depart for the disaster area as soon as the situation becomes clear.” Units from as far away as Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi and other areas of Louisiana are preparing to respond. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: William Crouch, Hurricane Ivan, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Coast Guard announces that it is closing ports and waterways along the Gulf Coast, and evacuating its own personnel and resources from out of harm’s way. “Extensive damage and closures to ports and waterways throughout the central Gulf coast should be expected,” the Coast Guard warns. More than 40 Coast Guard aircraft from units and more than 30 small boats, patrol boats, and cutters, are positioning themselves in staging areas around the projected impact area (from Jacksonville, Florida, to Houston, Texas), and they are preparing to conduct immediate post-hurricane search, rescue, and humanitarian aid operations, as well as waterway impact assessments and waterway reconstitution operations. [US Coast Guard, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Around midnight, local emergency officials from southeastern Louisiana hold a teleconference with FEMA to discuss plans for responding to Katrina’s aftermath. Local officials are so certain of catastrophe that they ask FEMA to include extra medical staff in its first wave of responders to help the expected casualties. At this point, officials are reportedly following a plan drafted only months ago, as a result of the Hurricane Pam exercise conducted in 2004 (see July 19-23, 2004). [Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005]
Note - Following the 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise, Innovative Emergency Management (IEM issued a Draft Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan (Draft Plan) on August 6, 2004. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004 pdf file] Whether local officials are following this draft plan, or a later plan, remains unclear at this time. The Chicago Tribune reports that the plan in place provides that local officials should be prepared to deal with the aftermath of the storm for 48 to 60 hours (or until August 31). However, the Draft Plan expressly contemplates that local search and rescue resources will be unavailable to rescue the estimated 500,000 people in flooded or damaged areas. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 69-70, 72 pdf file] Thus, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the US Coast Guard are expected to serve as the primary first-responders, while local officials are tasked with requesting assistance. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 70-74 pdf file] Further, while local parishes are tasked with identifying required support, the Plan recognizes that they may be unable to do so: “State and Federal SAR operations personnel will respond to Parishes without a request if initial assessment indicates that the Parish is severely damaged and is not capable of requesting assistance.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 75 pdf file] The Plan also contemplates that 500,000 residents will need transport from the initial search and rescue staging area to shelters, and that because the Louisiana National Guard will be otherwise tasked, it will be unable to meet this transportation need. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 27-28 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Pam, US Coast Guard, Louisiana National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina will damage more than 40 crucial oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico beyond repair, and will inflice extensive damage to at least another 100 rigs. The damage is so extensive, some of the platforms are now lying on the Gulf floor, according to Capt. Frank Paskewich, commander of the US Coast Guard in New Orleans, and weeks from now, the full extent of the damage will remain unclear. [ABC News, 9/19/2005]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau reports that the Guard is ready to respond to the storm: Aircraft positioned from Hammond to the Texas border are ready to fly behind the storm to check damage after it passes over New Orleans. Search and rescue operations are coordinating with the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department and the Coast Guard. More guardsmen stationed at the Jackson Barracks, stand ready to head into the city with high-water vehicles as soon as the storm passes. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Coast Guard, Louisiana National Guard, Bennett C. Landreneau

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Around this time, Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA spokesman, who has spent the day at the Superdome before surveying the damage from a Coast Guard helicopter, briefs New Orleans Mayor Nagin on the extent of the damage. Bahamonde describes the surge of water flowing through the city as “surprising in its intensity.” Mayor Nagin is devastated, Bahamonde will later recall. Others attending the briefing begin to cry. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] According to a later Newsweek report, Bahamonde asks for a phone. “I need to call Washington,” he says. “Do you have a conference-call line?” He seems a little taken aback when the answer is no, according to a Mayor’s aide. Bahamonde manages to find a phone that works, but he has trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally gets someone on the line, the city officials hear him repeating, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand.” [Newsweek, 9/19/2005] According to Knight Ridder, Bahamonde also calls the FEMA team at Louisiana’s Emergency Command Center in Baton Rouge to brief them on the situation. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, Ray Nagin, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Marty Bahamonde

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

According to Petty Officer Cliff Roberts, at the Coast Guard’s Command Center, the Guard has received about four dozen emergency electronic signals from vessels in Grand Isle, Venice, and elsewhere. “It’s unbelievable.” The Coast Guard is also fielding calls from distressed residents unable to get through on 911 lines, and has received reports of people on rooftops at Villere and Louisa streets and in the 200 block of Almonaster Drive. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005 Sources: Cliff Roberts]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA Director Michael Brown describes the situation to CNN’s Larry King as “a catastrophic disaster,” before focusing on the devastation to New Orleans, which he describes as follows: “It saved downtown New Orleans but it decimated everything east of downtown and then, of course, decimated everything up through Mississippi, so there’s always good news and bad news and it here is it means we don’t have the flooding in downtown New Orleans but we’ve got the flooding everywhere. We’ve got some storm surges that have come across the levees. We have some, I’m not going to call them breaches but we have some areas where the lake and the rivers are continuing to spill over. The flood waters are still spilling into those neighborhoods, so it’s frankly unfortunately going to get worse before it gets better.” Brown reports that FEMA is assessing the situation and remarks that, “It’s just amazing to see the pictures and to hear the firsthand reports of these FEMA folks who have been with the agency for, you know, 15 or 20 years to call in and talk about how this is the worst flooding they’ve ever seen in their entire lives and talking about just neighborhoods after neighborhoods gone.” Brown also praises the Coast Guard rescue efforts: “I can’t say enough about the Coast Guard. They go out and they’re trying to do reconnaissance and the next thing you know there’s a guy on the roof that needs rescuing, so they rescue that guy and try to get him back to safety. That’s the kind of stuff we’re going to find in the near future.” [CNN, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Coast Guard, Michael D. Brown

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow.Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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