In the time Ridge has been in his post (he accepted it Sept. 21, 2001, resigned as Pennsylvania’s governor Oct. 5, 2001, but was sworn into office at the new department on Jan. 24, 2003) there have been constant warnings of terrorist attacks, all apparently based on surges in “chatter” among the bad guys, and subsequent claims of antiterrorist actions.
But those actions have invariably resulted in silence, not exultation that a second 9/11 has been averted.
The generous assumption is that good spies don’t run around talking about their work. The government has said repeatedly that, to keep intelligence flowing, it can’t reveal too much about the terrorist plots it uncovers. (Then it ignores that whenever there’s a political need, such as in the case of “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. In June 2002, the government was getting pounded for missing warnings on 9/11, so Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrest of Padilla — presenting it as though it had just happened, although he’d been in custody for a month.)
In quitting, though, Ridge didn’t stay silent on his record for national security reasons. And he didn’t boast of success in busting terrorists and keeping the nation safe. He said:
I am confident that the terrorists are aware that from the curb to the cockpit we’ve got additional security measures that didn’t exist a couple years ago, that from port to port we do things differently with maritime security. Confident that they know the borders are more secure. I'm confident that they know that we’ve developed and are sharing information with the state and local law enforcement.
Or, as The New York Times summed it up,
Mr. Ridge said he was “fairly confident” that the measures his department enacted had helped thwart terrorist attacks, but he acknowledged that he could not prove it.
The meaning is clear: For all the patrolled borders, guarded curbs, armed sky marshals and security queues, Ridge not only didn’t have statistics about suspects arrested and plots prevented ... he didn’t even have examples.
You can’t prove a negative. Any amount of terrorism could have been prevented just by the creation of Homeland Security and advertising of information about its efforts.
But this is Tom Ridge, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and commander of its 180,000 employees. It would be reasonable if he had the slightest clue. Something to offer.
Surprisingly, he does not.