The top U.S. official for domestic security took to the airwaves Sunday to reassure jittery Americans over the latest national terror alert, which was elevated to "high" more than a week ago.
Since February 7, when the U.S. terror alert was raised to its second-highest level, Americans have scrambled to stock up on supplies and staples that may be necessary in case of a terrorist attack.
On CNN's Late Edition Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the aim of raising the terror alert is not to scare people.
"Terrorists give us a choice - we can either be afraid or we can be ready," he said. "America chooses to be ready."
Secretary Ridge urged Americans to go on with their normal lives, saying they can be confident the government is doing everything it can to protect them. He also announced the launching Wednesday of a campaign to help ordinary Americans be as ready as they can be for a possible terror attack. Mr. Ridge said these preparations include having an emergency supply kit.
"Not unlike those that maybe people around here put together in the past couple of days in anticipation of two feet (61 centimeters) of snow, and people down in Florida put together in anticipation of a hurricane," he said.
Mr. Ridge said he is convinced there are al-Qaida members currently in the United States. But he declined to give specific numbers as to how many of them are currently under surveillance, and added that the biggest concern for U.S. authorities is proving suspects have links to terrorism.
"If we're able to prove it, you can be assured that the apprehension would be immediate," he said.
The Homeland Security secretary said the terror alert will be maintained at orange, the second-highest level, for the foreseeable future. He said this decision is based on multiple sources of information that are assessed on a daily basis.