On October 31, 2013, Governor Tom Ridge spoke at the Athenaeum to a crowd of well over 130 attendees. The former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania addressed the critical role of local governments in the fight against terrorism. As Governor Ridge put it, local governments are on the front lines of keeping American cities and towns safe. He pointed out that federal agencies are the last ones in and first ones out in responding to domestic emergencies. The Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom and the Rose Institute of State and Local Government jointly hosted Governor Ridge’s visit.
Reflecting on his time in the White House, Ridge said that his central goal in building the Department of Homeland Security was to integrate federal, state, and local governments to work together to thwart future attacks. Ridge referred to a dire need for a change of paradigm in coordinating national security. Where, before, information was shared on a “need to know” basis, Ridge argued that intelligence regarding national security should be labeled “need to share.”
Ridge’s “need to share” construction recognizes that administrators on a local level need to be made aware of terrorist threats to secure their communities. He said, “In security, we need to trust each other with information – we won’t be able to secure America without that.”
In addressing the current state of national security, Ridge said that, although he had been out of the intelligence loop for some time, he believes that our security is stronger than ever. In response to a question about the massive leak of intelligence by Edward Snowden, Governor Ridge stated clearly that Snowden acted recklessly and put lives and jobs at risk by revealing vital information about the nation’s internal operations. He also criticized the government’s internal security measures as woefully inadequate in allowing a temporary contract employee access to such sensitive information.
Looking to the future, Ridge said that cities could learn from Boston’s disciplined and effective response to the recent bombings during the Boston Marathon. He noted that the efficient and coordinated response of many disparate local agencies and private entities (notably area hospitals and doctors) was the result of planning and practice drills.
Ridge also addressed cyber security, saying that the public sector needs more trained experts in cyber security.
After the Athenaeum event, Governor Ridge visited the Rose Institute’s offices for a question and answer session with Rose students. He concluded his visit with words of wisdom, saying that younger generations need to be aware of the necessary tension and balance between personal privacy and national security, especially in a future where new technologies and social norms may make it increasingly difficult to keep anything private.