Chertoff: No politics in terror alert system

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Thursday said politics was never a factor in determining whether the nation's color-coded terror-alert level should be raised.

"Politics never entered into raising the alert during my tenure in any way, shape or form," said Chertoff, who led DHS from 2005 until last January.

The issue of whether politics played a role in raising the alert level in the Bush administration came up in discussions about a forthcoming book by Tom Ridge, a former GOP lawmaker and Pennsylvania governor who served as the nation's first Homeland Security secretary.

Ridge wrote that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to raise the alert level before the 2004 general elections. "There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?'" Ridge wrote.

During interviews this week, Ridge has emphasized that he was only musing and that politics did not factor into raising the alert level.

Chertoff, taking part in a panel discussion, said the department under his tenure only raised the alert level twice, and both decisions were based on his recommendations and the merits.

Chertoff added that he still believes the alert system serves a purpose but could be improved. He said the government should examine whether there are too many levels and if there could be more clarity on what actions should be triggered at different levels.

"My own view is that the basic concept of a system like this has a great deal of merit," he said.

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