"We have to go back to the same sense of urgency and concern that we had on September 12th, 2001. I think we've lost that over the past several years," Ridge said during an appearance on CBS' "The Early Show".
Ridge said he believes law enforcement and intelligence agencies' failure to share information is still the main culprit in security lapses like the one that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to allegedly board the Detroit-bound with deadly explosives. The attack failed when the device didn't detonate properly, allowing fellow passengers to subdue the suspect.
"The Department [of Homeland Security] … consumes information. We don't generate it. The departments only can act on information that it receives. And it seems between the Department of State [and] the terror screening center, the information that should have been relayed to DHS … I don't think that ended up where it needed to be acted upon. And I think that continues to a be real challenge."
Abdulmutallab had been on a U.S. terror watchlist, but not a no-fly list. And according to the 23-year-old Nigerian's family, his father expressed concerns about Abdulmutallab's extremist religious views to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria several months ago. Failure to act on those red flags is one of the central issues surrounding the thwarted bombing.
Ridge, who first helmed the department since its inception following the Sept. 11 attacks, said the lack of information-sharing was a "cultural phenomenon" that dates back to a Cold War mentality.
"The remedies are twofold: you have to change the culture – somebody has to hit the send button - but the other challenge is really a technical one … You and I presumably used credit cards during the holiday season and in a nanosecond they tell us whether our credit is good or bad. That same kind of system could be engineered and built into [Transportation Security Administration] security procedures," he told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith.
Ridge also said that the security measures implemented in the wake of the botched attack – such as banning passengers from leaving their seats during the last hour of their flights – seemed "rather arbitrary."
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