Federal officials are planning to roll out a new terror threat system in coming days, on the heels of new warnings about home-grown attacks.
The new system would be the third major federal warning system in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, beginning with the original color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, which was abandoned in 2011.
The current National Terrorism Advisory System is meant to notify the public about an “imminent” or “elevated” threat to the country. However, it has never been used, in part because the bar for triggering an alert is too high, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday morning.
“It depends on a specific credible threat to the homeland,” Johnson said at an event hosted by Defense One. “I believe we need to get beyond that and go to a new system that has an intermediate level to it. I’ll be announcing soon, hopefully, what our new system is, which I think reflects our new environment and new realities.”
“We need a system that informs the public at large of what we are seeing,” he added. “Removing some of the mystery about the global terrorist threat, what we are doing about it and what we are asking the public to do. I am hoping we will announce this in full in the coming days.”
Johnson’s announcement on Monday came hours after President Obama made a rare address from the Oval Office on Sunday evening, warning the country about “a new phase” of terrorism in light of attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris.
While the investigation is ongoing into the San Bernardino violence, which killed 14 people, officials say that it appears to have been inspired by extremists such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, there has not been any evidence that ISIS actively directed the attack, officials say.
As such, the plot would have been nearly impossible for law enforcement and intelligence agents to detect. The absence of communications back and forth to ISIS or extensive meetings with senior leaders means that the couple involved in the shooting could carry out their plan without setting off any federal alarm bells.
That needs to change, Johnson said.
“We’ve moved to a new phase in the global terrorist threat that involves not just terrorist-directed attacks from overseas, but terrorist-inspired attacks here on the homeland and in other countries,” he said. “In this environment … not having a specific credible piece of intelligence reflecting a specific plot is not the end of the story.”