Protecting America

In the second selection from "After," Tom Ridge is drafted for homeland security and Anthony Romero maneuvers the ACLU into the post 9/11-era.

Topics: Tom Ridge, ACLU, 9/11, Homeland Security,

Protecting America

Editor’s note: This week, Salon is publishing selected scenes from “After,” Steven Brill’s definitive, deeply revealing book about how America has changed since the national trauma of September 11. Brill, who started his career as an investigative reporter before becoming a media entrepreneur (the American Lawyer, Court TV, Brill’s Content), draws from interviews with more than 300 people, as well as court filings, internal summaries of high-level government meetings and other documents to create his portrait of a nation struggling to redefine itself while holding on to its fundamental values. “After” is told through the eyes of a wide range of powerful and unsung people, from Attorney General John Ashcroft to ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, from a World Trade Center widow to the attorney for John Walker Lindh, from lobbyists in Washington to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose company makes machines that detect bombs in luggage. Chronicling their stories on a nearly day-by-day basis, “After,” which will be published in April, is the most sweeping, yet detailed, account of what Brill calls “the September 12 era.” It’s a “towering achievement,” in the words of New York magazine’s Michael Wolff, in which “the granular becomes epic.” Read Excerpt 1.

- – - – - – - – - – - -
By Steven Brill

April 1, 2003  |  Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was in the governor’s mansion at about 1:30 on Wednesday when his secretary said that Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, was calling. Ridge immediately took the call.

Card wanted to know if maybe Ridge could come down to Washington from Harrisburg to talk about a new job they were thinking about involving homeland security. It turned out that Ridge was already supposed to be in Washington the next day to testify at the International Trade Commission in support of his state’s steel industry. Stopping by for a chat would be no problem, he told Card.



Ridge aides recall that he seemed preoccupied after the call, but that he kept mum. About an hour later, the staff became more curious when the secretary put through a second call from Card. After they chatted for a few minutes, Card said, “someone else wants to talk to you,” and Vice President Cheney got on the phone.

Cheney told Ridge he was delighted that he was coming to talk about the job, that it was a job that Cheney and his staff had been focusing on in the last few days, and that he was hoping Ridge was prepared to give it serious consideration. Ridge was surprised that things had gotten far enough that the vice president was already involved.

At about 4:15 Ridge left in the state plane for a funeral in Meadville, Pennsylvania. When the plane returned to Harrisburg at about 8:30, Ridge was greeted by an aide as the door opened. The president had been trying to reach him.

Ridge went quickly to the governor’s mansion where he could take the call from the privacy of his bedroom. The president was also glad Ridge was coming to town so quickly, he said, because this was a really important job.

As he finished the call, Ridge’s wife, Michele, came in, surprised to see him at home. “I took one look at his face,” Michele Ridge recalls, “and stopped. I knew something was going on.”

“We have to talk,” Ridge said. “Right now.”

“Is it your mother?” Michele asked. Ridge’s 78-year-old mother had recently been in the hospital for surgery.

“No,” he replied. “Let’s talk.”

“I’m an army brat,” says Michele Ridge, “and was used to getting told we were moving. And Tom was drafted, too. So for some reason, without him saying it, this seemed to me like the time he’d been drafted — which it kind of was.”

As Ridge’s aides speculated about all the calls, Michele told him she knew he had to take the job. But they also discussed another problem: With Ridge needing to rent an apartment in Washington and the family needing to find a home in Harrisburg at least until the end of the school year, Michele was going to have to go back to work. There was no way they could suddenly assume all those new housing costs, plus keep the kids in private school, on his White House salary (which he later found out was $140,000). Plus, she’d have to buy a car (they had not needed one of their own in the seven years he had been governor), and figure out how to pack up their files and furniture with none of the usual transition costs budgeted by the state for this kind of sudden move.

The Ridges decided that they could not tell anyone, including their children — son, Tommy, 14, and daughter, Lesley, 15 — until the next evening, because, as Michele remembers, “the kids are so networked on the computer that they were bound to let the word out.”

At 6:45 the next morning, Thursday, September 20, Ridge flew to Washington for his testimony. By 9:30 he was in Card’s office at the White House. Soon Cheney joined them, then the president. The meeting had all the urgency of a wartime conference. They outlined the coordinator’s role. Bush promised his friend that he’d have his full backing to shake things up. But they needed an answer now because the president wanted to make the announcement of a new homeland security chief in his address to Congress scheduled for that evening. Ridge shook the president’s hand and said yes.

Tom and Michele Ridge talked to Tommy and Lesley on Thursday afternoon, just before Ridge left for Washington to be there for the president’s announcement. It helped that the kids knew and liked the Bushes. They’d spent weekends with them in Kennebunkport, Maine (at the Bush family compound), when their father and Bush had been fellow governors. And this past summer they’d stayed at the White House during a July 4th celebration. Bush had also stayed with them a few times at the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion. But this was quite a shock. Would he really leave Harrisburg and the governorship? What would this job be? What about the kids’ schools?

Ridge said that Washington was only about a two-hour drive and that he’d commute on weekends, at least until the school year ended. Then they’d see how things were going.

Ridge would later say that the decision was not that hard, and was made easier by his longtime friendship with Bush. “The president wasn’t asking me to run into a burning 110-story building like those firemen did,” is the way he put it. “This sacrifice, if it was one, was the least I could do.”

Nonetheless, it was an extraordinary decision, and one that was emblematic of the time — that brief, probably too brief, period of weeks following Sept. 11 when for most Americans the unprecedented urgency of the moment was such that no sacrifice, no disruption of normal life, seemed too much. In the space of about 21 hours, the seven-year governor of Pennsylvania had quit his job. He had forced his family to find a new home. (Ridge’s successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker, soon decided to let the Ridges stay in the mansion until December 31.) He had left his family. His wife would have to go from being a first lady with a staff of five involved in a variety of community service projects to a working mom. And he had gone from being a chief executive to a staff position that was, at best, ill defined, and would soon be challenged and belittled.

October 12, 2001

On the same morning that the USA Patriot Act was being pushed through the House by a lopsided vote after having been supported 96-1 in the Senate, and on the day after the Senate passed the aviation security bill 100-0, the executive committee of the national board of the ACLU convened in Washington — where one of the first issues up for debate was whether the ACLU should continue to oppose metal detectors at airports. Since 1973, the official ACLU policy had been that the organization was against the screening of airline passengers for guns and other weapons because it violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

Amazingly, the ACLU position had never changed, despite attempts over the years by some members of the board to get it amended. Now, the organization’s executive director, Anthony Romero, was determined to get the policy expunged before he started reading about it in the press.

After about an hour of discussion, the executive committee voted unanimously to repeal it. But when the full 84-person national board, which includes representatives from the 50 states, would meet two days later, things didn’t move that quickly. After a debate that lasted much of the morning, the repeal resolution passed by a voice vote, but not at all unanimously.

Among those who wanted to keep the ACLU on record against screening all passengers for guns and knives was Arthur Heyderman, the delegate from Iowa. “We should not cave in to the pressure of the moment,” he argued. “The government should do a better job of figuring out who has to go through a metal detector. They should have probable cause before making someone go through it.”

How are they supposed to check every passenger for probable cause, one of the other board members asked. “That’s their job, not ours,” Heyderman replied. “We have to stop worrying about how they do their jobs. Why can’t they just put an air marshal on every plane,” he added. “Then they wouldn’t have to worry about searching people or finding probable cause. If that’s the price we have to pay not to violate our right not to be searched, we should pay it.”

Heyderman, who also argued that we should not be bombing Afghanistan “any more than we should have bombed Chicago because Al Capone lived there,” is part of what Romero calls “an old-guard faction at the ACLU, which has a lot of respect in the organization but which does not always prevail.” Yes, they make his job more difficult in the September 12 era, he says, but they also “help us keep to our principles.”

Beyond the metal detector issue (which Romero did succeed in disposing of without any publicity), the ACLU’s three-day policy meeting featured what Heyderman would later call “debates over efforts we have to make to reach out to people to get them to slow down. Ashcroft wanted to scare people to death, and we had to figure out how to stop that.”

Steven Brill is currently a Newsweek columnist and a consultant to NBC on issues related to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>