The first U.S. secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, says that commercial airliners and the airports they operate through are still in the crosshairs of terrorists, and that complacency toward possible attacks on commercial aviation is something to guard against as 9/11 recedes in time.
"I don't think we ought to be breathless about the global scourge of terrorism," former Pennsylvania Gov. Ridge told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV
But he said: "We have to accept it as a reality that may be a permanent part … of the global community forevermore."
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Republican Ridge also defended his controversial finding — delivered as a private consultant — that a proposed football stadium in suburban Inglewood, Calif., near Los Angeles International Airport, would become an inviting terrorist target.
Ridge is in a scrape with local officials over his report on possible security risks for the planned $1.86 billion stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2018 as the new home of the Rams, the NFL team that left Southern California in 1995 for St. Louis.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts said Ridge's conclusions are based on a paycheck from a client that wants the stadium built elsewhere, in downtown Los Angeles, and Butts accused Ridge of demagoguery for invoking the terror threat.
Ridge freely admitted on "MidPoint" that he did the study for a rival firm.
"But the fact of the matter is if you had commissioned me to do the study on the Inglewood site, I would have expressed the same concerns," he told Berliner.
"I've been called a lot of things in my life," said Ridge, adding that this is "probably the first time I've been called a demagogue."
Ridge said that he would remind Butts, a former airport public safety official and police chief, "that since Sept. 11, 2001, commercial aviation has been a target and is part of an ongoing threat stream."
"The FAA will tell you the greatest concern — the greatest number of accidents have to do with takeoff and landing," he said. "And then you do that close to a stadium and complex that might have 70,000 or 80,000 people, these are risks upon risks. And the report basically says if you're going to build it there, you better understand from the get-go the number of risks associated with it.
"There's got to be a better alternative," said Ridge. "There's got to be."
Ridge also spoke about securing soft targets, a term encompassing everything from stadiums to shopping malls, and was joined on air by former CIA intelligence analyst Lisa Ruth of the private intelligence analysis firm LIGNET.
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"One of the things that the public generally does not know is the amount of attention and resources and people who are committed to enhancing the security around" soft targets, he said.
"But again, it's that fact of life," Ridge said of the threat to populated public settings.
"They're much more easily accessed and frankly will remain a great concern of ours in this global effort to combat the scourge of terrorism."
Ridge said the balancing act since 9/11 is not between security and liberty, but between security and convenience.
"Now we don't want to surrender any constitutional rights in order to secure ourselves," he said, "but if we want to tolerate a little more inconvenience, we're prepared to do that."
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