Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: Same Priorities, Different Perspectives: Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff on Homeland Security

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: Same Priorities, Different Perspectives: Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff on Homeland Security

Article excerpt

Thomas Ridge with Lary Bloom. The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege...And How We Can Be Safe Again. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2009.

Michael Chertoff. Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Reviewed by Stephanie Cooper Blum


On November 25, 2002, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 , 1 which created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), bringing together twenty-two governmental agencies. DHS became operational in March 2003. The White House described DHS as "the most significant transition of the U.S. government in over a half-century by largely transforming and realigning the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland." 2

In 2010, as the third homeland security secretary begins her second year leading DHS, and as DHS analyzes the results from its first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, 3 it is clear that the department as an organization and homeland security as a concept are still, relatively speaking, in their infancy. Against this backdrop, former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff have each published historical retrospectives on homeland security and their experiences leading the government's newest department. Both books should be read together as they each complement the other. Ridge's The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege . . . and How we Can be Safe Again focuses on the politics of homeland security, the department's creation, and its initial obstacles. 4 Chertoff's Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years places Islamic terrorism in historical context and provides a road map of homeland security priorities. 5 After reading both books, one greatly appreciates the sheer magnitude of standing up the department in 2003 and the challenges and continuing evolution of homeland security where failure is unforgettable and success is often invisible.

Both former secretaries focus on risk management and information sharing as integral components in reducing America's vulnerability to terrorism and natural disasters; both describe the importance of gaining the cooperation of moderate Muslims in winning a war of ideas; both stress the symbiotic relationship between economic prosperity and security; both emphasize the need for international cooperation; and both urge comprehensive immigration reform, enhanced cyber security, stronger identification using biometrics, and improved public health surveillance. Most significantly, both lament the consequences of complacency, which they contend is one of America's biggest risks to undermining what has been achieved in the last seven years. Yet, there are meaningful differences between their books - not so much in substance, as their priorities for homeland security are almost identical - but in their unique perspectives and the resulting assessment of the last seven years.


Ridge's book is a poignant memoir depicting his personal experiences - both successes and frustrations - as head of the White House Office of Homeland Security (OHS) after 9/11, which evolved into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. While his book delves into the substance of homeland security, its insight lies in candidly discussing the "intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security" (p. 239). By providing an honest assessment of his agreements and disagreements with the Bush administration and various officials, Ridge provides the reader with a behind-the-scene look at the politics of homeland security from the department's creation to the forging of its mission. Ridge also provides a unique perspective as a former governor, especially when it comes to vertical information sharing and unfunded mandates. After reading Ridge's book, one better understands, as he describes it, the "almost undoable" task of balancing transparency and disclosure with needed secrecy and creating a governmental entity capable of generating the confidence and trust of the American public (p. …

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