U.S. Homeland Security director Tom Ridge visited with Iowa State Fair officials yesterday, and moments later told reporters his visit to the fairgrounds was not an indication of an imminent threat. Ridge says there are similar events around the country where literally hundreds of thousands of people congregate, and the people responsible for hosting those events and programs were concerned about security long before September 11th. Ridge says he visited with Fair officials because one of his aides worked at the State Fair when she was in college.Ridge says he didn’t want anybody to misinterpret his curiosity about the Fair. Kathie Swift, the Fair’s PR manager, says Fair officials are always concerned about security in and around the 400-acre Fairgrounds. Swift says “certainly, it’s the world we live in now,” and fairground security measures have been “intensified” since 9-11.Swift says Ridge really stopped at the Fair because of the Iowans on his staff, but she says it was nice to have him review the Fair’s security plans and have Ridge pronounce them “effective.”Swift says everything’s being done that can be done to ensure the safety of fairgoers. There will be no airport-like security check-points and only very random bag searches. During a news conference on the State Fairgrounds, Ridge acknowledged reports that al Qaeda plans to assassinate officials in the U.S. and abroad. Ridge says assassination has been one of the means al Qaeda has used before to try to influence events, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they resort to the tactic again. Just before Ridge’s visit, Governor Tom Vilsack and other local democrats complained Iowa isn’t getting a fair share of Homeland Security funding. And Vilsack complained about not getting a chance to take his concerns directly to Ridge. Vilsack says Ridge’s office didn’t schedule a visit with the governor during yesterday’s trip. Ridge told reporters it’s wrong to assume he believes Homeland Security spending should be directed to higher-risk areas.Ridge says fortunately for Iowa, a portion of funds will always be available to states, regardless of population or risk level, to support building a security infrastructure. Ridge also spoke to employees of an insurance company in Des Moines late yesterday afternoon. Ridge is a former Marine who was Pennsylvania’s Governor before taking over the Homeland Security helm in D.C. Democrats criticized Ridge’s visit to the Fairgrounds, saying it was politically motivated and pointing out he did not tour the grounds.
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