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‘He was going to answer the call’: Former aides say Ridge’s post 9/11 policies make nation safer | Pennsylvania

(The Center Square) – It has been 20 years since nearly 3,000 Americans perished in the deadliest terrorist attack on national soil.

For two of Governor Tom Ridge’s top aides – Chief of Staff Mark Campbell and Federal Policy Advisor Mark Holman – the world changed overnight, and their boss’s rise to the forefront of the country’s response effort was a sudden and somewhat forgotten conclusion.

“There was a long list of downsides [for taking the job]Campbell recalled at a Pennsylvania Press Club event recently. “Maybe there was a pro, and maybe it was patriotism, but I think I realized before I even realized. having completed this list, we already knew the answer. “

So when a joint session of Congress convened a week after the attacks, they prepared for what millions of Americans did not yet know: President George W. Bush would give Ridge the task of building a brand new national defense program from scratch to stop similar attacks before they happen.

“He was going to answer the call, there was no doubt in my mind,” Campbell said.

Eventually, that company became the Department of Homeland Security and Ridge its first secretary, until his resignation in 2005. The legacy he left, Holman said, continues to this day.

“There have been six or seven secretaries since him, and they are all very competent,” he said. “But none were loved like Tom Ridge, and his presence and composure in public was key to the beginning of our national security.”

“[DHS] it’s still baby bureaucracy, but there’s no doubt the nation is safer because of it, ”he added.

Indeed, the 22 agencies of DHS manage everything from airline security protocols to infrastructure protection to border security. Holman said that while some of the measures, like those taken to manage air travel, can be “a pain in the neck … they’re also pretty darn effective.”

He also praised the Patriot Act of 2001, the country’s controversial surveillance program that some critics say has gone too far in its efforts to flush out domestic terrorist activity, as essential to increasing information sharing between government agencies. local, state and federal law enforcement and thwart potential attacks.

“There are so many plots that we will never know about, some of us are, and this is an incredibly valuable contribution,” he said.

Pennsylvania itself faced a wave of threats in the days following 9/11, including rumors that a train full of nuclear explosives was heading for the Harrisburg Amtrak station or that terrorists identified Three Mile Island as an “easy target”.

None of these plots ever came to fruition, but some elsewhere in the country did, Holman recalls, such as the anthrax mail attacks sent to the media and to congressional offices that killed four Americans and injured 17. others.

“We had a day on the job, and we had a national biological event, ”said Holman. “And it was bulge and we have learned a lot. [It was] a precursor to pandemic planning, how disparate our public health response is, especially with a biological threat. “

The early days of DHS, only then the Office of Homeland Security, finally carried a $ 49.8 billion agency that employs 180,000 people who coordinate national defense on a scale that the country had never before seen.

In a June 2002 speech, Ridge set out his vision for DHS during a speech to National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, in which he stated that the responsibility to ensure “the homeland security “to the time has come to more than 100 separate government entities.

“No agency calls internal security its sole or even primary mission,” he said. noted. “Therefore, despite the best efforts of the best public servants, our response is often punctual. We don’t always have the kind of alignment of authority and responsibility with accountability that gets things done. This creates situations that would be funny if the threat weren’t so serious.

However, in the decades since DHS was formed, Holman and Campbell claim Ridge finds his management of immigration law enforcement – the focus of which has changed with the political whims of shifting administrations – a frustrating “distraction”.

“The political immigration debate has been a bit of a recent albatross for the agency, and it’s a complete distraction, ”said Holman. “One of the things that bothers the governor the most about this is the politics of immigration policy as opposed to the enforcement of immigration policy, legal immigration as well. The two got lost in each other.

Despite this, Ridge spoke fondly of his leading role in shaping DHS during a recorded reflection on the 20e September 11 anniversary published Thursday by

“At our country’s worst time, we survived on a unique American regime of kindness, generosity and compassion,” he said. noted. “You may not find these words in any national security plan, but I can assure you that these concepts are just as essential to our resilience like any part of our national defense.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity given to me to serve our country, from soldier to secretary,” he said.

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