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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Ridge backs U.S. wiretaps but advises amending law

BLADE STAFF
Tom Ridge, at the Masonic complex, says wiretapping technology has outgrown related rules. Tom Ridge, at the Masonic complex, says wiretapping technology has outgrown related rules.
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Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in Toledo last night that President Bush was well within his right to use wiretaps without court orders for national defense.

But Mr. Ridge also said he favored amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to give some oversight.

Mr. Ridge made his comments during a brief news conference at the Great Hall of the Toledo Masonic complex on Heatherdowns Boulevard before speaking to about 600 people at the Junior League of Toledo's annual Toledo After Hours Gala.

The former governor of Pennsylvania and Army veteran of Vietnam said today's wiretapping technology has outpaced the law, but it shouldn't stop Mr. Bush from using the technology to save American lives.

"What we need to do is empower the President and future presidents with an appropriate amendment to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], and I think people would feel a lot more comfortable that Congress had some type of oversight [and] if there was a third party taking a look at it," Mr Ridge said.

"I think the President is within his power to [use wiretapping] to provide for the common defense. If someone from al-Qaeda is calling into the United States, they're probably not making reservations to go to Disney World."

Mr. Ridge said he believes the issues involving the National Security Agency's surveillance program are completely separate from Mr. Bush's highlighting how a plot to fly an airliner into the 73-story Library Tower in Los Angeles was foiled in 2002.

"I don't know the source of the information [about the possible terrorist attack], but I'm not surprised that someone picked up somewhere that somebody out there said we ought to look at [Los Angeles]," Mr. Ridge said.

"It won't be the first time, and it won't be the last. That's separate and apart from the NSA surveillance. I think the President has done the right thing."

Mr. Ridge acknowledged that there may have been a breakdown in communication between the federal government and local authorities in light of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's saying that there had been no communication between him and the White House about the foiled attack.

Mr. Villaraigosa was not mayor at the time. He was elected in 2005.

Mr. Ridge said a strong Patriot Act should fix those communication gaps and called for its renewal. "It does highlight the nature of the Department of Homeland Security, and I always thought its role was to build and sustain a relationship with the federal government, the state government, and the local government," Mr. Ridge said. "I think the federal government is getting better at that. We made it a high priority, but there seems to be a miscommunication that should be avoided. State and local governments and first responders are our partners."



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