Homeland Security to drop color-coded threat system

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to announce Thursday that it will drop the color-coded threat alert system put in place following the 9/11 attacks.

The ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee praised the upcoming decision, saying that the alert system was thought among lawmakers to be a “political scare tactic” by President George W. Bush’s administration, which initiated it.

“The old color coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in a statement. “Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert.”

“I have raised concerns for years about the effectiveness of the system and have cited the need for improvements and transparency,” he said. “Many in Congress felt the system was being used as a political scare tactic — raising and lowering the threat levels when it best suited the Bush Administration.”

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), said he supports the end of the color-coded system as well and is looking forward to see what the new threat advisory system is going to entail.

"Though the system served a valuable purpose in the terrible days and months following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11th, it was clearly time for the current color-coded system to be replaced with a more targeted system," said King in a statement. 

"I know they have been working on this for a long time. It sounds to me like the changes they are proposing make sense. We will have to wait and see how they implement this new, more targeted system. I expect the biggest challenge for DHS will be balancing the need to provide useful and timely information with the need to protect sensitive information. I look forward to reviewing the details when they are available and will work with Secretary Napolitano as she implements the new system.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to deliver her first “State of America’s Homeland Security” address tomorrow at George Washington University and will likely talk about the decision to end the alert system and what, if anything, will replace it.

The color-coded threat advisory system was put in place following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as a way for the American public to gauge the level of violent threats against the United States based on intelligence that law enforcement officials had received. 

The incremental risk level is represented by colors — from green as low risk to blue, yellow, orange and red — and the precautionary measures that government and travel officials, such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), would take correspond accordingly.

But the system, which has largely remained at yellow for domestic travel and orange for national security, has been widely criticized as ineffective.

Thompson suggested that Napolitano might introduce a revised threat advisory system, based on “common sense.”

“I applaud the secretary for her decision to create a common-sense approach to alerting the public when credible threats arise,” he said. “It is important that the public continue to be vigilant and cooperate with state, local and federal authorities.”

A spokesman for DHS declined to comment.