Ridge Vows To Protect Access To Information

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By: Joe Strupp

Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told newspaper editors Thursday that he would work to protect public access to information, but added that the war on terrorism will require tighter controls in some areas.

“There will be times, I’m sure, that the Attorney General will get information that suggests maybe a national park or a particular city may be the subject of a future attack and a need to ramp up security,” Ridge said during a luncheon speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) convention being held here. “At what point do you share that information? You have to deal with that on an ad hoc basis.”

Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor appointed to the newly created post by President Bush last year, opened his speech by praising newspapers for covering the terrorism issue so closely. He asked editors to continue posing questions and explaining the needs of security as the process goes on.

“You’ve served as a catalyst to promote and shape public discussion,” he said. “I urge all of you to keep writing the stories that explain the public risk.”

During a question and answer session, several editors raised the issue of tighter control on public information as part of the United States’ response to terrorism. Ridge stressed that openness to the press should be the rule, but said restrictions could be placed on “the kind of scientific information and other information that reveals the vulnerability of the United States that could be used against us.” But he added, editors “will be in the middle of the debate from the get-go.”

Ridge also acknowledged that his office and other government agencies have made some mistakes in carrying out anti-terrorist efforts, particularly with the anthrax scare last fall. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons and will learn a lot more,” he said.

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