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REMARKS BY SECRETARY RIDGES AT A PRESS CONFERENCE REGARDING THE NATIONAL THREAT LEVEL

12-30-2003

Good afternoon.  Just over a week ago the United States Government raised the national threat level from an "Elevated" to a "High" risk of terrorist attack - or as is more commonly known, from Code Yellow to Code Orange.  

First let me say that homeland security officials at all levels of government - federal, state and local - continue to work around the clock to protect our country.  

And so, on behalf of the President, the American people and myself, I want to say thank you to all of those dedicated professionals who so willingly exchanged holiday plans for hard work, all to better guard the safety and security of the American people.

We know from experience that the increased security we implement when we raise the threat level, along with increased vigilance, can help disrupt or deter terrorist attacks.  And that continues to be the case.  I wish that all Americans could have the benefit of seeing firsthand what I see - that is the scope of the response undertaken by all segments of law enforcement, public safety and government at all levels, as they have quickly and efficiently ramped up comprehensive protective measures across the country.  

It is because of their good efforts that we are, without doubt, better prepared to deter and to respond to a terrorist threat than ever before.

Our Department has been in constant contact with federal, state and local officials from around the country.  Across the nation, federal, state and local authorities, and the private sector, have worked quickly to increase police presence and security procedures, bolster critical infrastructure and activate Emergency Operations Centers on a 24/7 schedule.  From New York to Los Angeles, from Las Vegas to Houston, actions have been taken ranging from security personnel placed in transit systems, shopping malls and other places of community gathering.  There is increased surveillance at critical infrastructure sites, including bridges, power plants, water systems, and nuclear facilities.  

Law enforcement personnel are coordinating with area hotels, convention centers, and arenas to maintain business as usual, but heighten awareness of any suspicious situations.  

And let me just add that Homeland Security executive teams, made up of members of my staff with a wide range of security expertise and capabilities, can serve as a resource to cities and states.  

Let me also underscore that these kinds of security actions are being put in place to better protect you as you prepare for travel for New Year's Eve celebrations, bowl games - whatever your plans may be.  

As you know, last week, United States and French governments together took steps to halt inbound international flights - acting on specific information we had to ensure the safety of these flights.  Based upon advanced information on several passengers, for example, Air France Flight 68 originating from Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and destined for Los Angeles International Airport was not allowed to take off.  We engaged in similar cooperative action with the governments of the United Kingdom and Mexico.

This is an excellent example of the unprecedented partnership and cooperation that is now underway both here at home - across all segments of government and law enforcement - including with our international allies. 

We shared information with people who could act upon it, and we are grateful that officials in France responded immediately.

In fact, just this morning, several members of the Administration met with a French delegation.  Today's meeting is an indication of the importance our governments place on security and the need to work together to protect the public from the threat of terrorism.  

We had a productive discussion on a variety of areas of mutual concern, including intelligence and information sharing, specific measures to strengthen aviation security and other security efforts that we have underway. We also agreed that members of our teams will meet again in January to continue to reassess our progress and advance our shared goals to combat terrorism.

With all the recent talk about air travel, it is understandable that some still question the safety of flying.  Let me reassure you that in the two and a half years since September 11th, our aviation system has risen to new heights of security, and will continue to take additional steps to increase protection.

Today I am announcing that the Department of Homeland Security has issued aviation emergency amendments to further enhance security relating to both passenger and cargo aircraft flying to, from and over the United States. Specifically, we have requested that international air carriers, where necessary, place trained, armed, government law enforcement officers on designated flights as an added protective measure.  These directives, effectively immediately, are part of our ongoing effort to make air travel safe for Americans and visitors alike.  

All Americans should know:  Now that we are at a Code Orange state of alert, additional meaningful security measures have been put in place.  

And these measures - both visible and invisible to travelers - are blanketing airports, seaports, chemical and nuclear sites, gathering places - all across America, and with unparalleled protection.  

I also want to remind all Americans that as we continue under an Orange alert, your awareness and preparedness is critical to the ultimate security of our nation.  Reporting any suspicious activity you may see helps security officials help you and your fellow citizens.

Additionally, simple steps you can take - such as preparing a family emergency plan, putting together an emergency supply kit, staying informed - these all can go a long way toward making us more secure and better prepared.    

In the end, each of us must remember that we are at war - at war against an enemy driven by hate and determined to destroy the ideals we cherish and the way of life we hold dear.  For them, victory is gained if we give in to the terror and panic they seek to create.  

And yet, as citizens you make the difference in this fight.  When you choose to get on a plane, when you choose to live your lives, when you choose to press on even in the face of fear, you send a message to the terrorists - a message that says, in the midst of threats, we will not give way to fear.    

After all, America is a country built by citizens ever ready to answer the call of service, ever ready to defend the blessings of liberty generations have fought so hard to secure.  

This is a great nation.  And so, we will show the terrorists the strength of our resolve and the spirit of our determination never to falter, never to fail.  

So I encourage all Americans to go forward with their holiday plans, gather with family and friends, reach out to your neighbors and rest assured that the full force of homeland security all across this nation is at work to keep you safe.  

Thank you.