Bush aide alleges pressure to raise threat level before 2004 polls


Washington : There is more embarrassment for former US president George W. Bush as his first homeland security secretary Tom Ridge says he was pressured to raise security threat levels before the 2004 election to influence voting.

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When Bush sought re-election in 2004, he and his Democratic rival John Kerry were neck and neck in the race to the White House.

But just four days before the polls, Osama bin Laden had issued a tape warning Americans against voting for Bush.

It has been speculated that the tape helped Bush win the second term in the White House.

Now in his memoir, “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again”, Ridge says he was pressured by then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft to raise security levels after the bin Laden tape.

But he refused to budge, says Ridge in the book, thinking it was “politically motivated”.

America’s first-ever home security chief has been quoted as calling this event “dramatic and inconceivable”. He says it reinforced his decision to quit.

A former governor of Pennsylvania, Ridge was picked by Bush to head the newly created department of homeland security after 9/11. He served as homeland security secretary from January 2003 to February 2005.

Set to be released Sep 1, Ridge’s memoir will further fuel debate over the Bush presidency’s high-handedness in dealing with national security issues.

But Bush’s aides have denied these allegations.

“We went over backwards repeatedly and with great discipline to make sure politics did not influence any national security and homeland security decisions,” Bush’s chief of staff Andy Card has been quoted as saying.

Former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend said: “I am a little mystified… Never in my experience did I see any political influence exerted on the cabinet secretary.”