In his new book, the first Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, accuses top aides to President George W. Bush of pressing him to raise the terror alert level to influence the 2004 presidential election.
Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, says that he refused the entreaty just before the election from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, according to a summary of the book from publisher Thomas Dunne Books.
Ridge writes that there was a "vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion" about raising the threat level. He says his aides told the White House that doing so would politicize national security.
"I believe our strong interventions had pulled the 'go-up' advocates back from the brink," Ridge writes. "But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington's recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security."
"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge, who resigned soon after the election where Bush defeated Democrat John F. Kerry, writes in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."
Ridge's book will only fuel Bush critics, who have long said that his White House used terror threats to distract the public from the unpopular Iraq war.
The Bush team has long denied that was the case.
UPDATE: Bush's former homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, told the Associated Press today that politics never played a role in determining alert levels. She noted that in the weeks before the electio two videotapes, including one from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, were released that she said contained "very graphic" and "threatening" messages.
"Never were politics ever discussed in this context in my presence," she said.
Asked if there was any reason for Ridge to have felt pressured, Townsend told the AP: "He was certainly not pressured. And, by the way, he didn't object when it was raised and he certainly didn't object when it wasn't raised."
Ridge's book chronicles his entire tenure as homeland security chief.
"In this probing and surefooted memoir, Ridge takes us through the challenges he and his new department faced, including Anthrax scares and reports (both real and false alarms) of new Al-Qaeda operations sprouting up in the United States," says the publisher's summary of the book, scheduled to be out on Sept. 1.
"Ridge writes with refreshing candor on both the successes and missteps of the DHS. He details the obstacles faced in his new post -- often within the administration itself -- as well as the failures of Congress to provide for critical homeland security needs, and the irresponsible use of terrorism by both parties to curry favors with voters," the summary continues.
It says that Ridge also reveals in the book how the department was "pressured to connect homeland security to the international “war on terror;” and how he had "pushed for a plan (defeated because of turf wars) to integrate DHS and FEMA disaster management in New Orleans and other areas before Hurricane Katrina."
Asked about the allegation about the election, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted today that current Homeland Security Janet Napolitano launched a study whether to scrap the color-coded system, which critics say is ineffective and confusing.
"Decisions regarding the terror threat should be made based on the rise and fall of that threat, not based on anything else," Gibbs told reporters.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.