When our nation called, Tom Ridge answered. Appointed by the President to head up domestic security, Ridge established the Department of Homeland Security. In this probing and surefooted memoir, Ridge takes us through the challenges he and his new department faced, including Anthrax scares and reports (both real and false alarms) of new Al-Qaeda operations sprouting up in the United States.
A “law and order” Republican who was on the shortlist to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Ridge writes with refreshing candor on both the successes and missteps of the DHS. He details the obstacles faced in his new post—often within the administration itself—as well as the failures of Congress to provide for critical homeland security needs, and the irresponsible use of terrorism by both parties to curry favors with voters. Ridge also reveals:
• How the DHS was pressured to connect homeland security to the international “war on terror”
• How Ridge effectively thwarted a plan to raise the national security alert just before the 2004 Election
• How Ridge had pushed for a plan (defeated because of turf wars) to integrate DHS and FEMA disaster management in New Orleans and other areas before Hurricane Katrina
Finally, Ridge offers a prescriptive look to the future, advocating ways that America may reaffirm its safety—including his provocative support for a national ID card program and for comprehensive immigration reform—without sacrificing personal liberty.
Television captures every word and every expression. I was reasonable to think that our enemies would look for any sign of weakness in the person who in a few days would be responsible for protecting America against them. At that moment, I experienced a royal flush of emotion—after all, I was leaving the state I loved, a loyal staff, many friendships developed over a lifetime, the frustration of work unfinished, to head into the unknown and the undoable. In normal times, I might have shed a tear at such thoughts. But I was determined not to do so as I said my farewell. If I needed any reminding, I glanced down at the note I had written for counsel.
“The bastards are watching.”
We can never guarantee we will be free from another attack. We must also understand that every day thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens work here and abroad to take us to a new level of readiness and security. For in the end, Americans do not live in fear. We live in freedom. And we will let no one take that freedom away.
—Tom Ridge, from THE TEST OF OUR TIMES