President Bush formally installed former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as Director of the new Office of Homeland Security Monday as the country remains on high alert for the possibility of more terrorist attacks.
At his White House swearing-in Monday, Mr. Ridge willingly accepted a task that many experts have deemed nearly impossible in the short term: protecting the United States from further terrorist attacks.
"The president's executive order states that we must detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks - an extraordinary mission, but we will carry it out," Mr. Ridge said during the swearing-in ceremony.
Among those promising to cooperate with the new homeland defense chief is Attorney General John Ashcroft. He told a Washington news conference Monday that he has put federal law enforcement agencies on the highest state of alert because of the possibility of additional terrorist attacks.
"I encourage all Americans to continue to have a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings. I ask for them to report suspicious activity to our partners at every level of law enforcement, from local law enforcement to state authorities, to federal authorities. Every American should be vigilant and we are counting on each American to help us defend our nation in this war," Mr. Ashcroft said.
Mr. Ashcroft said more than 600 people have been arrested or detained since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. He said federal investigators are looking for more than 200 others wanted for questioning in connection with the attacks.
Former Air Force Major Randy Larsen, head of a research organization that monitors terrorist threats, told CBS television that Americans should expect more attacks, though on a smaller scale compared to the events of September 11. "But I think we are going to see the sort of things we have seen in Western Europe for years. Small attacks. A bomber with dynamite on his body. A small car bomb or something like that. Perhaps they will try to attack a toxic storage facility that could cause a small chemical incident, but nothing large scale," Mr. Larsen said.
Mr. Larsen is also among those urging Congress to give Tom Ridge the bureaucratic authority to order various government agencies to change the way they handle homeland defense issues. "He has to have the authority. If we just make him like a drug czar, he will have great difficulty succeeding," Mr. Larsen said.
Even though he will report directly to President Bush, some members of Congress have already complained that Mr. Ridge is not being given enough power to coordinate homeland security.
Terrorism expert Steve Emerson told NBC television that it could take a while for Tom Ridge to establish his power within the federal bureaucracy. "If he can sort of coordinate missions, integrate. This is the only way he can succeed in the near future. Then, over time he can basically establish his own protection mechanisms and gain control over it. But right now he is going to rely on local municipal services," Mr. Emerson predicted.
Local officials around the country have increased security measures in the wake of the U.S. military strikes. New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani said he knows many people are anxious about the possibility of additional terrorist attacks.
But he also offered some advice in an interview with CBS television. "Now people have to go about leading their lives and you know, take reasonable steps to protect yourself. You always should. But don't obsess this. Go ahead with your life," the mayor said.
In fact, the mayor took some of his own advice Monday, marching in the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City.