Ridge Says More Security Info on the Way
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
Speaking at the National Governors Association's (NGA) annual summer meeting, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the nation has a long way to go before it is secure and that his department needs to develop better partnerships with state and local officials.
"We still have a long, long way to go," Ridge told the governors. "But I'm confident that if we can work through the governors, and through the governors, work down to the mayors and local governments, we will get stronger and more secure every single day in the future, as we have every single day since 9/11."
To further this goal, Ridge said his department, along with other federal agencies, such as the CIA and FBI, is working toward sharing greater levels of intelligence information with select state officials.
"We'll be sharing more and more information with all of you. At the end of the day, how we communicate both before and after an incident substantially increases our ability either to prevent an incident from occurring or reducing or minimizing the loss if one occurs," he said.
Ridge said that governors and most state-level homeland security chiefs already have been cleared to receive intelligence information. He asked Monday that governors designate five additional people within their states who will have access to top-secret intelligence about planned or suspected attacks.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said that a recent NGA survey of his fellow governors revealed that their single greatest homeland security need is for more information from the federal government.
"The area of greatest concern surprised me. I thought it would be money. It was not," he said.
Romney said governors seek greater access to intelligence information, but that they also want more direction from Ridge for how to protect key infrastructure sites, such as power plants, chemical factories and bridges.
"This isn't a matter of money, this is a matter of establishing procedures and working groups that continue to strengthen our intelligence capability and the communication of intelligence across different levels of government," he said.
NGA officials said privately that one of the blocks to greater information sharing is bureaucratic inertia at the federal level. They said federal agencies charged with the nation's security are just now learning how to communicate with one another and that communicating with states may be a lower priority.
Ridge said one way to improve the flow of information between the Department of Homeland Security and state officials is to standardize communication procedures.
"We need a standard protocol vis a vis our department and the governors," he said. "One of the things that we're going to do is develop a secure web site so that those who have clearance can get access to that kind of information."
Ridge told the governors he expects them to receive about $3.5 billion from the federal government next year for homeland security needs. He said the governors have received nearly $4 billion to date.
More than 80 percent of this money has been passed through states to local governments and so-called "first responders" for the purchase of fire equipment, hazardous material suits and other health equipment to save lives in the event of a terrorist attack.
Romney said this level of funding is adequate and that states must make sure they are spending this money wisely before they go begging for billions more.
"You can only drink so quickly. Putting us in front of a fire hydrant is not the way to solve a thirst," he said.
Romney said that the NGA survey of governors also showed that many of his colleagues would now like to devote as much attention to so-called "first preventers," such as state police units charged with anti-terrorism operations, as they have "first responders."
Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) said this means giving street-level law enforcement officers greater access to federal criminal records and intelligence.
"It's very important that we do work together. What that means is giving over 700,000 state and local law enforcement officers out on the street real-time access to information at the federal database level," she said, adding that this would include a suspect's background, any terrorist activity and citizenship issues.
"It could result in a very different outcome at the end of that investigation," Minner said.