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Jeanne Meserve: Homeland Security chief faces tough job

CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve
CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve  

(CNN) -- The United States' new Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, was sworn in Monday. CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve spoke with anchor Paula Zahn about Ridge's challenging new role.

JEANNE MESERVE: Many people think Ridge will have a difficult, it not impossible time trying to coordinate the counterterrorism activities of more than 40 federal agencies. But there is no doubt about it: As of yesterday, his job assumed new urgency.

Yesterday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation used its national threat warning system to urge local law enforcement to go on the highest level of vigilance and evaluate whether additional security measures would be needed.

Now, most state and local governments didn't need this advisory. They have had plans in place for several weeks, knowing that U.S. strikes in Afghanistan were probably inevitable, and that there was a risk of retaliation.

Among the sorts of new security measures that we saw go in place yesterday: increased police patrols in many major cities, increased security checks. You are seeing more robust security at airports. You are seeing more guarding of critical infrastructure, like bridges and tunnels and nuclear power plants. And the Coast Guard went on 24-hour armed surveillance at more than 300 U.S. ports. All of this, Paula, although the FBI says there is no specific threat to react to.

PAULA ZAHN: And any continuing reaction to that Washington Post piece last week that if ... there were military strikes that we could expect more terrorist attacks in this country?

MESERVE: Well, I think that's been the word from top administration officials right on down. Certainly it was communicated from people at the federal level to people at the state and local level. They were urged to be prepared for this. If they didn't have religion before September 11 when it came to counterterrorism, believe me, they sure have gotten religion since.

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