By: Ron Fournier, AP White House Correspondent
(AP) The threat of terrorism is a “permanent condition,” and Americans must learn to live with it, Homeland Defense Director Tom Ridge said Monday as he outlined goals for a long-term security strategy.
“If we secure the hometowns, we will secure the homeland,” Ridge said in remarks prepared for the annual Associated Press meeting of newspaper publishers and editors. For the first time, Ridge reviewed plans to release this summer or fall a national strategy to prioritize the nation’s homeland defense needs. The plan will focus government resources where the risks are the highest, where most lives can be saved and most property can be protected, he said.
“It will reveal what we need to protect. It will outline the resources available to us, and point the way for their best use. And it will institutionalize our response over the course of several years,” Ridge said in a draft of his address made available to the AP.
Bioterrorism, for example, poses one of the greatest threats for massive loss of life “and our preparedness has historically lagged behind the threat,” Ridge said. He told the news executives that the homeland defense strategy “will answer two questions often asked by your reporters, and rightly so: ‘Whose job is it — and who pays for it?'”
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush named the former Pennsylvania governor to be the White House’s point man for domestic defense programs. It is a daunting assignment involving scores of federal activities, including border control, intelligence. and safeguards against bioterrorism strikes.
Some in Congress want to give him Cabinet-level status, which would grant lawmakers oversight power and, they say, increase Ridge’s influence. Bush has balked, insisting that he has given Ridge enough power to overhaul homeland security from his working space just a few steps from the Oval Office.
In his address, Ridge said the fear of terrorism has receded for many Americans since Sept. 11. “But the world is just as dangerous today, if not more so,” he said. “The threat is real — as real as it was seven months ago. In fact, it is a permanent condition to which we all must permanently adapt.”
Ridge said his office is working with states and the private sector to study the nation’s infrastructure and determine where the greatest risks for terrorism exist “so we can set priorities for protection.”
“The challenge is vast. It encompasses so much — oil and gas refineries, power plants and electrical substations, water treatment plants and reservoirs, dams and pipelines, to name just a fraction. Add to that our schools and hospitals, our banks and financial institutions, our airports and seaports, our bridges and highways,” Ridge said. “We will play both offense — massing our resources to meet the most immediate threats — and defense — working to fill our most glaring gaps,” he said.
Ridge said many local communities are already at work securing potential targets and preparing emergency workers to respond to attacks. America’s business community, which built an “arsenal of democracy” to fight World War II, is hard at work developing new technologies to fight terrorists, Ridge said. They are building what he called an “arsenal of security.”