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Ridge: Logan 'better': Homeland security boss still see work to be done

by Andrew Miga
Thursday, May 9, 2002

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has given Boston's beleaguered Logan Airport a vote of confidence, saying security has been significantly strengthened since the Sept. 11 attacks - but more can be done.

``There were some changes immediately in the aftermath of 9/11 that enhanced security at Logan,'' Ridge said in a Herald interview. ``A lot of it was instinctive and the right thing to do . . . All in all, yep, we're better today, but we've got work to do.''

Logan played an infamous role in the Sept. 11 strikes. Two of the hijacked airliners that hit the World Trade Center Towers originated from Logan - making the airport's checkered history of rampant political patronage and security breaches a focus of federal reform efforts.

Massachusetts Port Authority chief Virginia Buckingham, a political appointee, resigned amid a firestorm of criticism after the attacks. Baggage screening personnel and procedure were revamped.

Ridge said he's confident new Massport head Craig Coy, who has strong counterterrorism and military credentials, can work with federal, state and local officials to safeguard Logan from future terror threats.

``There have been steps taken that have made Logan safer,'' said the former Pennsylvania governor. ``The homeland is only secure when we secure the hometown.''

Ridge said he's also coordinating with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. ``I know what your mayor is doing in Boston,'' he said. ``He's pulled in the police and the health community and the military. We're moving on multiple tracks and moving aggressively.''

Ridge said America still faces a serious threat from terrorists - possibly even a nuclear strike.

Financial guru Warren Buffett earlier this week asserted that a nuclear attack against a major U.S. city such as New York or Washington was a ``virtual certainty.'' Buffett gave no clear timetable, saying such a strike could be ``10 years or 10 minutes'' away. He said chemical or biological strikes were equally likely.

Ridge said he agreed with the thrust of Buffet's grim prediction - and that Americans should brace for the chilling prospect that terrorists will try to develop and deploy some type of nuclear weapon on U.S. soil.

``He's got a pretty good track record on stocks,'' said Ridge. ``The general theme of it's-not-a-matter-of-if-but-when is legitimate.''

``It's a permanent condition,'' said Ridge. ``We have a range of potential targets because of the diversity of our country.''

But he added, ``We're not comfortable yet as a country digesting information about a possible attack.''

Ridge said he suspects there are more sleeper al Qaeda cells hidden in America - but he balked at estimating how many.

``It's very unlikely there were only 20 al Qaeda members that penetrated our borders in the last year and in the years preceding 9/11,'' Ridge said. ``I suspect there were more. It would be very foolhardy and foolish to think that we still don't have people like that operating in this country.''

Despite a massive federal probe, Ridge conceded that officials are no closer to solving the anthrax letter attacks that paralyzed Washington and killed several people.

``In terms of identifying a person or following human intelligence leads, I don't think so,'' said Ridge.

He added that ongoing lab tests could reveal key clues. ``The tests, according to scientists, could conceivably show us things about the perpetrators,'' said Ridge. ``They are slow and cumbersome.''

The broader challenge for America's leaders as the one-year Sept. 11 anniversary approaches, Ridge said, is to find the most effective way to manage risk and focus resources.

Ridge said he's confident that the $38 billion President Bush is seeking for homeland security in his fiscal 2003 budget will make a vital difference. But he added that states and cities must be given wide latitude on how to use the money.

``For example, we want to say to states like Massachusetts, `You're gonna get $100 million, how do you want to spend it?' '' said Ridge. ``Local officials know best.''

Ridge noted that he got a personal lesson recently how stringent airport security has become when he tried to pass through a metal-detector checkpoint at a Houston terminal.

``I got stopped and spread-eagled,'' said Ridge. ``The guy was doing his job. Everyone should be checked.''


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