The White House
President George W. Bush
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Gov Ridge Speaks at Homeland Security and Defense Conference


Thank you, Ed. Thanks all. Well, thank you, Ed, for that introduction. And again, my apologies to that distinguished group of panelists.

I understand you were discussing some cyber security issues. And I would tell you that I just left a meeting that had been convened as part of the homeland security effort that will deal exclusively with cyber security issues.

In my many conversations with the president about developing a national strategy for homeland security, in as much as our government, our culture, our society is becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet and cyber space, the president has very appropriately directed resources with a specific focus on cyber security within our office.

So maybe we can get a transcript of all the good suggestions that you had and share it with the good group that was meeting earlier today.

It is a pleasure for me to join such a distinguished gathering of leaders from the aerospace, aviation, defense and space industries. I know you share the president's goal of making America a safer place for all of us to live and to raise our families.

I understand you heard from Richard Anderson and Norm Mineta. I suspect that they had quite a bit to say about airline security and what is yet to be done. And I imagine they also told you what has already been accomplished since September 11th to make flying safer.

I had occasion to be flying back from New York about a week ago, and I learned that my mere presence on a commercial airliner provided a great deal of comfort to one of the passengers, who related to a member of my staff that he could put his antacid medication away; if the director of homeland security is on this plane, it's got to be a pretty safe flight.

The fact of the matter is that, since September 11th, everyday, the airline industry, the government, local community, everybody's been working very, very hard to make that integral part of our transportation system and a critical part of our economic infrastructure safer.

And one of the challenges I think we have and one of the reasons a conference like this is so critically important and one of the reasons I'm very pleased to be here is that the message that we need to project as a country to 280 million-plus citizens is that, every single day, every single day people within government and people in the private sector are working to enhance security and to make their country safer and their homeland more secure.

Our system is certainly a lot more secure than it was two months ago, and everyday we are making more progress. Each day we are getting stronger. There is no question that American ingenuity, know-how and technology will be a key to winning this new war on terrorism. Those of you, both in this room and participating via the global webcast, must surely help us drive that innovation.

The principle challenge for homeland security is, in fact, to focus, to focus all of our resources, all the resources at our disposal, federal, state, local and private, to safeguard our country from those who try to do us harm.

Unfortunately, nothing compels us to focus quite as well as a tragedy, and the events of September 11 created a shared sense of urgency and a commonsense of purpose.

That sense of purpose has fueled a national response that, I believe, has been immediate and comprehensive: recovery efforts in New York City and the Pentagon; handling the anthrax challenge with identification, treatment, decontamination and investigation; addressing urgent economic needs for the airlines and insurance companies; restoring affected commercial services, again, the airline industry and our mail; restoring public confidence, while instilling vigilance.

In the weeks since September 11, we've largely concentrated on response and recovery from the terrorist attacks on our country. Federal agencies have mobilized to protect our critical infrastructure.

The FAA took immediate steps to secure our airports, enacting tough flight restrictions and improved aviation security has clearly become a national priority.

The FBI has stepped up its counterterrorist efforts with watch list and threat credibility assessments.

FEMA is managing--that's the Federal Emergency Management Agency--is manning a 24-hour operation center staffing health service support teams and working with states to improve their emergency preparedness and response plans.

The FBI has taken on a new mission with the intelligence community: prevention of terrorist attacks.

The Department of Energy is overseeing the joint coordination on nuclear material control and security enhancements.

The Environmental Protection Agency has significantly increased its efforts to protect our water supply.

As I'm sure Secretary Mineta pointed out today, the Coast Guard is now patrolling our nation's harbors, many of which contain the approximation of nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructures.

In addition to pursuing our nation's military objectives overseas, our Defense Department is making a critical contribution to protect our national citizens and infrastructure as well.

Army National Guard soldiers and airmen are protecting our airports and patrolling our skies.

The Department of Justice has created our new foreign terrorist tracking task force to help protect American citizens from these shadow enemies, these shadow soldiers we're up against, people who would use--or some might say abuse--America's welcoming tradition of hospitality and generosity to hide their real motives and their real intent, and that's to commit atrocities against innocent citizens.

This list certainly doesn't exhaust the kind of work that has been undertaken by the federal government. Similar enhancements have been going on at the state and local level, and it certainly doesn't include everything that's going on in the private sector as well.

So I can say with a great deal of confidence that, every single day, Americans across this country, whether they're working government or in the private sector, are working to secure our homeland.

As we work to respond and recover from the events of September 11, we also have to go from simply a response mechanism to plan and provide the national strategy that the president commissioned the Homeland Security Office to develop in his Executive Order.

We must now expand our mission from simple response to begin the hard work of improving and strengthening our domestic security for the long-term, not just for us, but for generations to come.

Our adversaries or those who do us harm, those who would kill innocent citizens, those who would undermine our way of life, our adversaries must respond to our game plan instead of us responding to their's. That is the main mission of the Office of Homeland Security; that is to create a comprehensive national strategy for homeland defense, to secure the United States from terrorist threat or attacks.

That's the language the president used in his executive order establishing the office, and please notice that I said it was to be a national strategy--not a federal strategy. The national strategy that the president envisions will involve all levels of government, federal, state and local. It will tap the creative genius and resources of both the public and the private sectors.

We must be able to detect and deter terrorist threats before they happen. And if America is attacked, to be able to trigger a seamless system of rapid response and recovery.

As all of you know, the first step in developing a strategy is to identify your goals. This is as true in homeland security as it is in military planning and military strategy.

Our national strategy for homeland security will identify our objectives in precise and measurable terms. What does that mean? In the case of homeland security, that means performance not process. It means we're going to know exactly what needs to get done and we'll know when we got it right.

The second step in developing a strategy is identifying your needs. This means finding the gap between where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow. Emergency response operations over the last two months have spotlighted areas for improvement. Local people have identified others. And support teams, such as the ones from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the FBI, are doing their part as well.

The third step is to fill the gaps. Our national strategy will focus all the instruments of national power at our disposal. Where we find cracks in the system, we will work to repair them. Where we find strengths in the system, we will work to enhance them.

When you're dealing with an adversary as audacious and as calculating and as evil and as determined as these terrorists, no system is going to be perfect, but we're going to try to get as close to perfect as possible.

That has to be the mission; that has to be the goal. I believe our strategy is very forward-looking. This will require doing things differently than we've done in the past. This will require innovation, discipline, patience and resolve.

Now, the Defense Department takes a long-range approach to its budget needs, Homeland Security will do likewise with a multiyear budget plan, a plan that cuts across all agencies, a plan that not only addresses present urgent needs as we build a foundation for national homeland strategy, for security strategy, but also works to get ahead of the threat.

In other words, we're not preparing to fight the wars of the past, we're creating a blueprint to win the wars of the future.

I know others at this conference have identified some of the challenges we face, and we look forward to continuing that dialogue with you. Effective solutions of these challenges must combine the best contributions from professionals across government and the private sector.

It's really quite astonishing in the six weeks that I've been with the Office of Homeland Security to read some of the correspondence from citizens who have ideas as to how this country can enhance its security to technology companies and entrepreneurs and research scientists--everybody wants to help.

And one of the challenges of the Homeland Security Office is to make sure that all these ideas that come across our way are vetted with the appropriate people, to make sure that, if it's a good idea, that it has either immediate or long-term application, we ought to explore it, and if it really works, we ought to apply it. Performance is what counts.

Let me give you some of the examples of what I think we need to do as we find--as we identify the challenges in creating a permanent infrastructure. We need to give our nation's first responders--the firefighters, the police, the medical professionals and other emergency officials--the tools to do their jobs even better.

Before September 11, many in our country never thought of these men and women as first responders. Nobody really ever thought of these individuals as the first line of a homeland defense.

Now today, after September 11, I believe every American understands their mission. We wouldn't send soldiers into harm's way without proper equipment and training, and it's clear that we owe the same commitment to our first-responders in this country as well.

Our first responders nationwide need standardized training. They need procedures and equipment that will allow them to communicate with each other during a crisis. We intend to enhance cooperation across the federal government. We're even considering merging some of our agencies. We also need a strong national biodefense strategy, a system that strengthens the public health system, increases the ability of local hospitals to handle major public emergencies and better protects the nation's food supply.

We've got to find better ways to quickly share threat information, not only across the intelligence community, not only across the federal government, but to governors and states attorney generals and mayors and local and state law enforcements. Obviously, there is much more to be done, and our long-term plan will address that.

Creating a national homeland defense strategy has never been done before. The challenge is great, but I'm confident we will succeed. Much has changed in this country since September 11, but one thing that hasn't changed is our resolve as a nation.

Those who attacked us may have thought it would crush our spirit, bring us to our knees. Somehow in their own diluted mind, think it would make us cower in fear. But they misjudged us and not just a little. They have so thoroughly miscalculated that it gives a whole new meaning to the classic comeback ``You'd have to be living in a cave not to know.''

I think they know now, and they should know that with our determination and with our resolve and with the fact that every American in his or way is engaged in this effort to create a more secure domestic homeland, they should also know that we will prevail.

So thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. And I'd be happy to respond to a few questions. Thanks all.

QUESTION: I would like to ask about, have you given any thought as to where a national medical intelligence database would be placed, either open source or classified on a national level that would serve both the state and federal government?

GOV RIDGE: The Department of Health and Human Services has a partially completed infrastructure called a Health Alert Network. And as we develop a national plan and build a permanent infrastructure, the infusion of technology into all 50 states and connecting all public health departments, so we have a central clearinghouse for all relevant public health information is very much a part of what we will do as we create a homeland security strategy.

It's already out there. It's a work in progress. But with appropriate funding, the coordination between the state, the federal and the local governments, we can accelerate it and bring it up to--bring it to closure a lot quicker than had been anticipated. But that's very much on our minds.

The long-term goal, particularly as we take the extraordinary work that has been done by the international coalition--again, this is a much longer term--it would be very unique and obviously unprecedented to have a similar public health information-gathering capacity not just within this country,but among the coalition allies, because these kind of attacks and bioterrorism threats and attacks could occur in other countries, as well. But right now we're focused on a homeland security strategy, and that's an integral part of it.

QUESTION: Could you speak a little bit about what you see is the relationship between homeland security and the defense and economic recovery stabilization and growth? The reason I ask that question is that we are hearing, we are reading a lot about the one thing that could severely disrupt an economic recovery is another major terrorist event.

GOV RIDGE: Well, let me go in reverse order and talk a little bit about the economic implications of another terrorist event.

I think it's uncontradicted that, prior to September 11th, the economy, after several years of robust growth and expansion, as economies are prone to do sooner or later, began to contract a little bit. I guess there were some people that thought what occurred in the early and mid '90s could go on forever, but there are certain constants, and cyclical economies are one of them. So it began to contract a little bit.

I also think it's uncontradicted that, because of the terrorist attack on September 11th and the anthrax attacks since that time, that there has been a further erosion of the economy. Much of it is attributed to just the public confidence and a certain level of anxiety, and people, in periods of stress and anxiety, are just reluctant not to spend, probably a lot more inclined to save.

I suspect that if you took a look at the statistics over the last couple of months, America's probably saved a lot more in the past two months than it has in previous years. So I think there's a natural consequence from a terrorist attack that results in anxiety and concern, that results in reduced spending, reduced economic activity.

That, coupled with the fact that we were going through a natural adjustment that vibrant economies occasionally have to attend to, means that if there was another attack of any sort, I think there would be some negative economic consequences.

So I think there is an association. From my view, it's difficult to quantify, but it's there. With regard to the role of the Department of Defense, first of all, Secretary Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense has been responding on a fairly regular basis to request for the use and deployment of National Guard at various sites around the country, but particularly with regard to enhanced security within the aviation industry.

It is pretty clear to me that, as we go about developing a national strategy rather than an ad hoc response to attacks--again, we're in that response mode--that we need to develop a plan and with the Department of Defense as a critical partner in what assets would be deployed, under what set of circumstances in the United States.

And I think that for the time being the most natural group of men and women, soldiers, that would be in a position to help us immediately would be the National Guard. But as we develop a national homeland strategy and as we look forward, the Department of Defense is a critical partner and I think the first assets that we're going to look to deploy will be the National Guard.

QUESTION: One of the handwritten questions sort of plays off on that. It's asking, is your office doing any coordination since so much of DOD's capability in homeland defense and security is spread amongst a lot of organizations? Are you helping them coordinate that type of thing, such entities as ASD, SOLIC, territorial security reservists, any of that type of stuff?

GOV RIDGE: So far the responsibility to coordinate has been one that has been fairly easy to meet. As of September 11 the communication and the coordination between individual departments among agencies has probably been unprecedented.

I think one of the challenges that the Office of Homeland Security has is to make sure that it becomes a permanent part of how the federal government does business. For a long time whether it was perceived or real, there was a notion that when you took a look at Washington, D.C. different departments and different agencies, in many respects, kind of siloed their communication, their information and the like. But since September 11, there's been extraordinary collaboration and cooperation. And one of the responsibilities I believe we have in the Homeland Security Office to make sure that not just the principals are cooperating--and I see that every day at every level, I might add--the FBI and the attorney general and the CIA and the Department of Defense and Customs working with INS. I mean, it's happening naturally. But I think our long-term best interests will be served if we create structures and relationships that just become a permanent part of how we do business and how the government provides service and security for the long-term. QUEDSTION: You sort of set up the chart we put up over here, which I think most people have seen probably at one time or another, which is the spaghetti chart of all of these organizations that Governor Ridge's office is supposed to coordinate. Most people, if you look at that, and you go, impossible. How do you do that?

GOV RIDGE: How do I do what?

QUESTION: How do you coordinate that?

GOV RIDGE: You could look at that in a negative way. And I always prefer to think that the glass is half full rather than half empty. But the fact of the matter is, a lot of folks thought, well, this office is taking on some brand new territory--and to a certain extent it is--and that the ship will be traveling in unchartered waters--and to a certain extent it is. That should say, although, you need--obviously, we need a lot more collaboration and we need to move those lines around a little bit and merge some functions.

But the fact of the matter is that, the federal government has committed resources and have been thinking about homeland security for a long time. Obviously, you've got disparate agencies that have different slices of that puzzle.

But there are elements of the infrastructure that already exist. And one of the things that the president has commissioned our office to do is--where they exist, but they could work better together, is to coordinate that. And one of the challenges I have, and as we take a look long term, is to literally fuse some of those agencies, share some of those functions and to move some of those lines around so there is more direct accountability and, frankly, a more seamless set of services.

But the fact is, you take a look at that and say, ``What a mess,'' and it is. But right now, while a lot of those agencies look to be separate and apart from one another, since September 11 there's just been a natural response that has involved extraordinary communication and collaboration.

One of the things that would make it easier, even if we compress that chart for these men and women to do their job, will be the infusion of technology. I will tell you that one of the big investments that this country has to make in homeland security is equipping some of these agencies with more and better technology that they have at their disposal today.

And, I mean, not only from the intelligence-gathering capacity of this country, but to communications among first responders. I mean, it's there, but it's not as complete and it doesn't cover as much of the homeland security field as it must.

The Corps of Engineers has a slogan that says something to the effect that, ``Difficult task take us a while to do and the impossible takes a little longer.'' It will be done. We will bring some rationality to that whole plan.

I take comfort to knowing that there are a lot of good people been working a long time on some of these issues. And my job is to put them together to come up with faster and better solutions. And they are prepared to respond.

QUESTION: There's a saying in military history that, ``He who defends everything, defends nothing.''   But that's your job now. How do you set your priorities and what are your top priorities?

GOV RIDGE: Well, that's a great saying--He who has 100 priorities has none. I mean, one of the biggest things we need to do at the outset is to establish what are the basic needs today. What is the foundation around which we would build a homeland security platform and then proceed from the construction of that platform ahead?

You'll look to see some of the foundation being constructed in the 2003 budget. We're in the process of reviewing some of the requests from a lot of the agencies.

What has happened after September 11 is, a lot of those agencies and a lot of those departments had a mission that had been assigned by Congress and had been very important to citizens in the federal government. Because of September 11 many of these men and women and their resources have gone to prevention, have gone to fighting terrorism.

So you've got the Coast Guard that had a traditional function, has to deploy some new assets a different way; the Drug Enforcement Agency really was primarily focused on drug interdiction, but they've focused and taken some assets and working on prevention; and you can go up and down the list.

But one of the first things we need to do is to provide more resources to these agencies who now have a new function, and the function is combating terrorism. Their history may involve preventing and their mission will be preventing terrorism, another part of their future mission may be responding to it. But the fact of the matter is, we have to better equip some of these agencies that already exist.

And then we have to take a look at whether or not we will enhance security if me merge their functions. We clearly have a high priority to upgrade the public health system in the United States. We have a very clear priority, in my mind, as we build a foundation to infuse some of these departments.

The lady that asked the first question, if you are going to prepare your country for a bioterrorism attack then you want to have just virtual information at the fingertips of public health officials to be able to identify as soon as it happens that an attack has occurred.

We are not as well-equipped as we want to be, but we're going to ramp-up quickly, and this is something we can turn around dramatically and soon. So whether it's technology, whether it's the public health infrastructure, whether it's back-filling some of these agencies and giving them more resources and personnel and equipment to do their job, and then we move out from there. But you'll see much of the foundation being developed in the 2003 budget.

And then we'll give the president a multiyear plan, several months afterwards, to build on that foundation.

QUESTION: Could you comment on the challenge of focusing intelligence to support homeland security and defense and across federal agencies and state and local? And who do you turn to to deal with that particular challenge?

GOV RIDGE: Well, as a soldier or as anyone would tell you, I guess, if you're looking to defend yourself, you want to push your parameter as far out as you possibly can. And one of the things we want to do in this country is push our parameter out far beyond our borders, and one of the ways we can do that is to make sure that all the information and data we secure, both from our own intelligence community and from the extraordinary coalition that has developed since September 11 that is sharing many times in unprecedented ways information with us, that we make that a permanent part of our infrastructure.

And one of the things I believe we need to do, and this is something that the president has given me specific instructions to do, is to make sure that our intelligence community is equipped with the kind of technology that they need not only to pull down the information, whether it's from multiple sources that we may have, but also to be able to fuse it because we have several agencies that are part of our intelligence-gathering community.

So once you make sure that they're equipped to get as much intelligence as we can and then to fuse it, then we have to make sure that we've got the technology that will disseminate to the people in the organizations that need it on a timely basis.

So the president has elevated the notion of intelligence-gathering and giving them the technology that they need to not only acquire it, but to digest it and then share it, is a very high priority. If I have a problem, and I've not had a problem yet with regard to seeking collaboration or coordination, the best ally I have is the president of the United States.

I've told some people and I say this with great respect because I've known the president for 20 years, but the president and I are on a first-name basis. He calls me Tom and I call him Mr. President.

He vested the opportunity and the responsibility for me with his executive directive. He has made it very clear publicly and in the meetings that we've had with Cabinet that it's one war, two battlefields; one battlefield in Afghanistan, another battlefield in the United States of America, and that the resources that we need to begin building this infrastructure and laying out a long-term plan are to be made available at my disposal. The ultimate tie breaker is the president of the United States. QUESTION: I'm told we have time for one more question. Right here in the middle. I have got some basic conerns. I have been listening to Richard Anderson talk about the trust and fire program. And there have been a lot of proposals about various national identify schemes for either card or smart tokens, something of that caliber.

Certainly, we've all heard a lot of discussion today about biometrics. And I get concerned about the biometric database in the sky that knows where I am and where I'm going and all that sort of stuff. Can you give us your thoughts on some of the trusted identity programs that might be coming along, whether a card or a token might be involved? Can we make that voluntary so that it's not a mandated thing? What are your thoughts in that area?

GOV RIDGE: One of the more interesting ideas I received, it was generated from a conversation I had with the airline industry, happened to involve the voluntary deployment of biometric cards. Now, I know there are some people that favor face recognition technology. I happen to believe that whatever the technology that can be applied with the greatest impact immediately because this technology is going to change, we will deploy the best first; and as it changes, let's change our system. Let's try to be as flexible and as quick to respond in government, as agencies and organizations and companies and individuals are outside of government. So I'll let the experts decide what is the best technology to be deployed.

Now, I like a redundant system. I like a voluntary card.

Look, when I travel commercial I paid an airline a few extra dollars a year to be able to go sit and recline and read a newspaper and have a cup of coffee while I was waiting for my flight.

You got frequent fliers out there, that I feel pretty confident as consumers of aviation assets, and is an integral part of the commerce if they have to pay for a voluntary card, which means that they get into this line and they're processed quicker and also not only as a convenience to them, but enhances the overall security. I think that if I were in the private sector I'd like to be providing that card. And whatever the technology is, I don't know.

GOV RIDGE: But I think it'll work. And it's not just that at an airport. We have entered into some really wonderful discussions with our friends in Canada and not only involving aviation security, but cross-border commerce and the kind of activity that we see, primarily in the states of Washington and Michigan and New York, although there are other border crossings.

And again, there are multiple suggestions on the kind of technology that you can use. But again, some form of technology in creating an easy-pass system, like we do on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

If you are preregistered, precertified, you got the card or the chip in your window, and you get some people who live in Canada, work in the United States and vice versa, that we can do with goods in international commerce with the appropriate standards and safeguards.

Not that I think technology will solve all our problems, but I do think technology helps us narrow the risk, reduce the risk profile and also expedites commerce in the flow of goods and individuals not only around this country, but around the world.

QUESTION: Given all of the pilot programs that are going on at airlines right now in airport and airline security, and Richard Anderson referred to some of them this morning, when do you see us moving toward standardization of a short list and implementation, so that we can eliminate some of this disparity that we know exists throughout the country?

GOV RIDGE: I had received a terrific briefing yesterday, a very comprehensive briefing from Secretary Mineta with some very specific time posts and guidelines as to when the security procedures that the Congress wants to put in effect will actually be fully implemented, and it's a very aggressive time frame. And I believe that, by and large with a few exceptions, he can keep to the time frame of that legislation.

But it's clear to me, and I want to say this with great respect, because we have enhanced security at airports and on airplanes today or at ports or at border crossings today, does it mean that as a country, as an industry, as an agency, as the director of homeland security that that doesn't mean that you're constantly looking for a better practice, that you're constantly looking for ways to enhance that security? And I think we have to get to this mindset that at the end of the day we will prevail. That at the end of the day we're smarter, tougher, stronger, more resolved, more resilient, we have the capacity, the innovation. I mean, we can prevail against bin Laden or anybody else. But we also need to have in our mind that because of the nature of this 21st century threat that there could very well, and probably would be, follow-ons. And that we can never be so secure with what we're doing today that we're disinclined to make improvements in the future.

So I think it's just an ongoing process for all of us--share best practices, challenge our systems. Because at the end of the day, I believe, that because of the horrible tragedy that has befallen several thousand families in the great city of New York and the families that have been affected by anthrax, our resolve has been tested. It has nurtured some innovation already. We see acceleration of research and ideals that may have been dormant before, but people want to help make it a more secure America. We must be mindful of the notion, we must treat this as a permanent threat.

As of September 10 we had different threats to our national security, our economic security and our personal security, and the government and the private sector was geared up to take on those threats. As of September 11 we have additional threats to our national security, our economic security and our personal security. So as a country and as individuals, we just have to make sure that we're always vigilant, always on guard and ready to make changes to confront any potential threat.

All right. Thank you very much.

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