Tom Ridge complained about frivolous terror alerts in 2005
Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge made headlines this week when his publisher offered a sneak preview of his forthcoming memoir. In the his book, Ridge reportedly claims that Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld and AG John Ashcroft tried unsuccessfully to pressure him into declaring a spurious terror alert to influence the 2004 presidential election.
Some of Ridge's critics have wondered why Ridge is suddenly speaking up after all these years. Actually, according to a contemporary report in USA Today, Ridge started complaining about other members of the administration pressuring him to declare terror alerts based on flimsy evidence in Nov 2005, less than a year after he left office.
The USA Today story also has some interesting background information on who set the threat level:
The level is raised if a majority on the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council favors it and President Bush concurs. Among those on the council with Ridge were Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI chief Robert Mueller, CIA director George Tenet, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
As secretary, Ridge would have been responsible for setting the threat level in consultation with the Homeland Security Council. Notice that the council that was advising Ridge consisted of some of the most notorious politicizers of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
Also keep in mind that, thankfully, Homeland Security doesn't have its own intelligence-gathering apparatus. Which means that Ridge was dependent on the likes of George Tenet for raw intelligence. Tenet became notorious for his willingness to distort intelligence on Iraqi WMDs to justify Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Suspicions that the terror alert system was politicized take on heightened plausibility when we consider who was making the decisions. As in so many other areas of the Bush administration, the same tightly-knit clique of ideologues were calling the shots. There was no independence or control for conflicts of interest. For example, if Donald Rumsfeld wanted to use security theater to drum up support for the Iraq war, he would have been well-positioned to lobby for an increased threat level.
One major elevation of the threat level came just before the invasion of Iraq. Granted, the U.S. invading a Muslim country was a massive provocation to terrorists around the globe. So maybe they had real intelligence. But it was never clear whether all that talk about stalking up on duct tape and plastic sheeting ahead of a chem-bio attack was based on evidence of a specific chem-bio threat, or just a desire to reinforce the connection between Saddam Hussein and WMD.