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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Bush's man to thwart terror
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge
Directing homeland security will involve many agencies
By US affairs analyst Ben Wright

Washington-watchers have been unanimous: Tom Ridge is the right man for an incredibly difficult job.

With Attorney General John Ashcroft warning that the likelihood of further terrorist attacks against the US is high, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has been given the task of overseeing homeland security.

He clearly has the presence, organisational and political skills that the role demands

According to President Bush's executive order, the mission of the Office of Homeland Security is to "develop and co-ordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks".

Tom Ridge - whose title is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security - will be based in the White House, co-ordinating the work of 50 agencies and departments involved in anti-terrorism.

These include the FBI, CIA, the military, police and fire-fighting forces, several executive departments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bush pledges support

He will also play a key role in the new Homeland Security Council, a body made up of the heads of all relevant executive departments and agencies.

The job created for Mr Ridge may evolve into a domestic version of the president's national security adviser - an overseer of broad homeland security policy.

At the swearing-in ceremony, President Bush said that the new director of homeland security would have "the full attention and complete support of the highest levels of our government".

Terror in New York after the 11 September attacks
Tom Ridge will have to ease public fear after the suicide attacks
However, the task facing him is enormous.

The vulnerability of the US to devastating, yet relatively simple terrorist attack has been exposed.

Intelligence services did not predict the attack; border control agencies did not stop the hijackers entering the US and aviation authorities failed to prevent them boarding the planes.

Even someone with the stature and experience of Mr Ridge may struggle to plug all the bureaucratic holes and engineer such a huge level of political co-ordination.

Tom Ridge is one of the Republican Party's rising stars.

Difficult to label

His father was a working-class Democrat, his mother a Republican.

After a scholarship-aided education at Harvard, Mr Ridge was drafted into the Vietnam War where he won the Bronze Star for valour.

His brand of Republicanism is difficult to label.

George Bush and Tom Ridge
George W Bush has promised full support for the new department
In many ways he is a moderate - pro-choice on abortion, a believer in using government to facilitate change, and a widely respected reformer on education and welfare.

Yet he has also been an enthusiastic tax-cutter and has a record of being very tough when it comes to law and order.

As Governor of Pennsylvania, he reinstated the death penalty for the state and instigated "three strikes and out" legislation against repeat offenders.

As a result of this mix, plus the fact that he is a canny politician, Mr Ridge has had wide cross-party support, not losing a race since he entered the House of Representatives in 1982.

Before the last election, he was widely tipped as a possible vice-president to Mr Bush.

The two men are close, first becoming friends when they worked on the former President Bush's 1988 election campaign. They were then both elected governors in 1994.

Now, Tom Ridge has what is arguably the most difficult task in Washington.

Bureaucracy poses problem

His job description is daunting.

While monitoring intelligence and co-ordinating precautions, he will also be responsible for responding to disaster should another attack occur, at the same time reassuring the public that not every plane and missing truck means imminent tragedy.

He clearly has the presence, organisational and political skills that the role demands.

Yet it is possible that, like other governmental enforcers and overseers, he could find the separate departmental fiefdoms of government an impossibly difficult bureaucracy to co-ordinate.

He also does not have a Cabinet-level department with which to wield political and budgetary clout.

Perhaps because the task is so immediate and the terrorist threat now so real, Mr Ridge will able to confound the sceptics.

The will to thwart any further terrorist attacks is great. But so too is the possibility of failure.

See also:

09 Oct 01 | Americas
America on high alert
10 Oct 01 | Americas
US names cyber-terrorism czar
09 Oct 01 | Health
FBI pursues anthrax lead
16 Sep 01 | Americas
US legal chief seeks tougher laws
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