BOSTON — Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday the warnings that he gave the public last week about a possible terror attack before the elections have nothing to do with politics.
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“We don’t do politics at Homeland Security,” Ridge said at a press conference, adding that the department’s job is to transmit credible information to the public. Those who suggest otherwise have reached “rather cynical” conclusions, he said.
With the Boston Harbor behind him, the secretary made the comments after touring the Democratic National Convention site and the security operation command centers. At the first political convention after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, counterterrorism officials have set out to make the Democratic gathering a display of security, using both human and technical tools.
“Our goal is to deter any potential attack with multiple layers of security,” said Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
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In Boston, Ridge said security levels will be unprecedented for a convention and will likely surpass the Salt Lake City Olympics in cost, certainly in complications to secure the densely populated area.
When asked if he’d feel safe bringing his family here during the event, he said: “You bet.”
While Ridge said counterterrorism authorities are still getting “credible information” indicating that al-Qaida is interested in attacking the United States to disrupt the democratic process, he said that his department has no specific information about time, place and type of attack.
That includes any information indicating that the Democratic convention, which will be held July 26-29 in Boston, is a target.
Designated a national security special event, a concept that evolved from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the Democratic gathering with its expected 35,000 visitors has been a candidate for federal money and heightened security overseen by the Secret Service.
Ridge toured the main security command center, where roughly 80 agencies will be located. He rode over some of the roughly 40 miles of roadways that will be shutdown at certain hours. And he met with a small fraction of the 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers who will be on the job.
Among tools at their disposal will be a Federal Protective Service mobile command center — a Winnebago, with some of the sophistications of Air Force One, according to some homeland security officials— that can control 75 cameras on federal buildings, should a main operations center go down.
Using technology first unveiled publicly Wednesday, the cameras can be focused to gather images of protests, license plate numbers and even to grab facial descriptions. The images can then be forwarded to officers on the streets, equipped with handheld devices.
“You get a better feel what you need to see, resource-wise,” said Ronald Libby, regional director for the Federal Protective Service, which guards federal buildings. “Now, you can put eyes on it” — technology that would have been invaluable during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to identify bomber Timothy McVeigh, he said.
With such a display of sheer volumes of security techniques, some terrorism experts believe that the conventions won’t be a target.
Still, some Democrats — with tickets in hand — are worried.
Sandra Ruliffson, a California delegate from the suburbs of San Francisco, questions if the government can protect the conventions. “We shouldn’t be in denial about this — obviously we shouldn’t be taking this lightly. It’s kind of put a knot in my stomach,” Ruliffson, 57, said in a recent interview. “I want some assurances.”