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Breakfast with Frost
AP
Governor Tom Ridge, US head of Homeland Security
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GOVERNOR TOM RIDGE US HEAD OF HOMELAND SECURITY NOVEMBER 10TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well as we were saying there, it's not just our government which is wrestling with the problem, this problem of assessing the terrorist threat, deciding how much to tell the public. In America President Bush wants to set up a department of Homeland Security to deal with this and he'll get it quicker now after those results last week and he's already appointed the man to lead it. His name is Tom Ridge, Governor Tom Ridge and he's been in London this week, meeting David here, to swap information and ideas and I talked to him during his visit to London and I began by asking him whether he shares the conviction that we were just discussing right then that it's only a matter of time before America is attacked again.

TOM RIDGE: Yes unquestionably, it's a matter of time and we have to be right and democratic countries, we have to be prepared and have to be right a thousand out of a thousand, they don't have to be right once out of a thousand and they can bring that kind of horror and destruction we experienced on September 11th.

DAVID FROST: So that means there are things like presumably Al Qaeda sleeper cells in America now?

TOM RIDGE: Correct, correct, I mean the notion that a country that has over 500 million people cross its borders almost annually for the past several years, that among that 500 million people that have crossed annually that we had only 19 Al Qaeda operational soldiers, the 19 involved in the four hijackings would be very naive and to be that dismissive of our own openness and our own diversity would be foolhardy and fatal. So we believe there are not only sympathisers but operatives and we have to plan and prepare accordingly and we are.

DAVID FROST: In terms of 9/11 or September the 11th, of course people said that there were a lot of warnings in advance that failed to get together, failed to get orchestrated, failed to get twinned together?

TOM RIDGE: I've seen and learned a great deal about the information that was scattered about there, I'm not convinced at all that even had they had a central place where some of these discrete pieces of information could have been put together for purpose of analysis that they would have concluded that there were 19 people going to hijack four aeroplanes and do what they did. But it did point out too, I think, some serious structural problems within our intelligence community and the President and the CIA Director and the FBI Director have made it clear that we need to do everything humanly and technologically possible to make sure it doesn't happen again.

DAVID FROST: You said this week that you know hundreds of Al Qaeda have been captured or killed, do you have any sense of how many are left?

TOM RIDGE: The estimates of this organisation I think are very rough and very crude. We simply know, I mean we do know that thousands and thousands went through training camps. We also know we've destructed the training camps but this is a highly motivated organisation, probably thousands we should just anticipate we have to deal with this reality for a long, long time.

DAVID FROST: And Osama bin Laden you assume is still alive, do you?

TOM RIDGE: I don't speculate, obviously I hope he's not but the way the organisation is designed I suspect that there would be a follow on, there would be a successor but it is so decentralised. I mean they separate finance from logistics from operation, they are in multiple countries around the world and so whether or not he's alive or dead, preferably the latter, there will still be the operational control that they have and the passion and the mission to be destructive of the Western world.

DAVID FROST: One of the compliments that you've received was that pre-Bali you shared more information, gave more advice to your civilians than we did or some other countries did, maybe the Australians did some too, but is that important that, that sharing and how do you decide between sharing that sort of information and setting off a panic?

TOM RIDGE: On a, on a government-to-government basis I think we share all, there are no secrets among such close friends and allies. But every single day based on information that our respective governments get you have to make these very difficult complex decisions as to what you then share with the general population. We are learning how to do that but there is no simple equation as to what is the right time and what is the right level of information and you really do it on an ad hoc daily basis and it's probably one of the most difficult things our political leaders have in this new environment.

DAVID FROST: Yes because the thing of whether there is a warning required, as we know from everyone talking about 9/11 and all of that, and where it becomes panic, when you expel fear and when you encourage fear, that is a very narrow dividing line?

TOM RIDGE: Very narrow and more so than most people appreciate or understand. Conceivably you could issue multiple warnings daily depending on the information that comes across your desk but it's, some of it's experience, some of it's instinct, some of it's intuition and some of it's good fortune. I mean you do try to make these decisions intellectually and they're difficult ones to make every single day. We've developed a colour coded system to tell America generally what we believe the level of threat is, it's flexible enough so that there's a specific sector or a target, we can give them more specific information and raise the level of warning and protective measures for that but again it is experience, intuition and tough decisions made every single day.

DAVID FROST: Governor Tom Ridge, head of Homeland Security in the States, talking to me earlier.

END

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