Excerpt: 'The Test of Our Times' by Tom Ridge

test of our times

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government attempted to streamline the chain of command of national security by consolidating 22 agencies under the Department of Homeland Security.

Tom Ridge was named the Department's first head and was there for the sometimes rocky development of the new agency.

In his memoir, Ridge recounts the challenges and successes of his time in one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

Read a chapter from the book below, then click here explore the "GMA" Library for more great reads.

VIDEO: First secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, discusses his book "The Test of Our Times."
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Chapter 14: The Politics of Terrorism, Part 2

You at Time, the rest of the news media, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, politicians, theorists, commentators, specialists and so forth— just shut up . . . [Y]ou are doing exactly what the terrorists want you to do: instill uncertainty in American lives. Enough, already!

—Letter from a reader to Time magazine, September 6, 2004

It was standard operating procedure that I would accept media interviews before upcoming holidays. There was a certain routine that developed around all major dates on the calendar. The media would make inquiries about security, intelligence, travel, and the like. And I would agree to radio and television interviews on these subjects. In preparing for the pre-Memorial Day 2003 interviews at the World War II Memorial, the networks had identified the location, because it was to be dedicated the following Monday. We learned that Attorney General Ashcroft had scheduled a press conference for later the same day. In anticipation of two cabinet members speaking on the same day in different locations we thought it best to coordinate our public messages to be certain there was no conflict. We called and e-mailed John's people several times, but never got a response.

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The next day, as planned, I did my press conference in front of the memorial. In response to questions about threats and security, I said there was nothing new to report. I noted the same level of intelligence traffic, but concluded there was nothing that would require us to raise the threat level.

Later that afternoon, Ashcroft had a far different message. He went to the airwaves to ask Americans to be on the lookout for Adam Yahiy Gadahn and several of his associates. No doubt Gadahn was a character to fear. Born Adam Pearlman and using the name Abu Suhayb, he appeared on a number of Al Qaeda videos, and was identified on these as "Azzam the American." He was subsequently charged in this country with treason.

But Ashcroft's warning that a plot that Gadahn and others were involved in—by the attorney general's estimation, 90 percent done—a massive attack on the United States, seemed to us at DHS to be overstated, to put it charitably. Pat Hughes, our intelligence chief, and others were convinced of this.

During the next regular morning meeting in the Oval Office, I was told by the president bluntly that I had undermined Ashcroft. I was reminded that counterterrorism is one of the administration's highest priorities, and that a united front had to be presented.

No disagreement there. That's why we tried so hard to contact his office the previous evening. My staff and I had done everything possible to avoid precisely the situation that occurred. I felt our credibility was undermined. It was appropriate to ask the country to be on the "look out" for these individuals, but we saw absolutely no reason to suggest an attack was imminent.

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