Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says that in the next few days, DHS will reveal a new terror-alert system “to do a better job of informing the public at large of what we are seeing, removing some of the mystery about the global terrorism threat.”
The current system, the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), which replaced the old color-coded warning system, has yet to be activated because it depends on specific threats to the homeland. The new system will have “an intermediate” threat level.
“I believe that in this environment we need to get beyond that and go to a new system that has an intermediate level to it and I’ll be announcing soon hopefully what our new system is that I think reflects the current environment and the current realities,” he said.
He made his remarks in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 victims dead and 21 other injured, which the FBI is investigating as an act of terrorism.
Following Johnson’s remarks, a DHS official said that this was actually “not a new system.”
“Earlier this year, Secretary Johnson directed a review of the NTAS to determine how the Department of Homeland Security can more effectively and quickly communicate information to the public and other partners regarding threats to the homeland. This is not a new system. DHS will announce changes to the NTAS in the near future,” said the official. “As always, we will adjust security measures, as necessary, to protect the American people to meet a constantly evolving threat picture.”
In October, Johnson said that DHS was looking at revising the current alert system that replaced the color-coded system based on the latest threats.
“I will tell you that we are considering revising our NTAS system, the National Threat Advisory System, which we’ve never used. We left the color-coded bars to an NTAS system, which we’ve never used. I’ve asked our folks to consider whether we should revise that system to accommodate how the terrorist threat has evolved. That review is underway now,” said Johnson in October.
One of the problems with the terror-alert system is that there is rarely any actionable intelligence upon which we can judge the severity of a threat. And in some cases, we may not want the terrorists to know we’re on to them by raising the threat level.
I’ve never thought much of the idea that the public needs to be informed that there is a better — or worse — chance for a terror attack on any given day. What are people going to do about it? Certainly, we should always be aware of our surroundings and report any suspicious behavior. Does our caution change depending on the level of the threat as reported by government?
This is useless PR by DHS and the timing of the announcement leads one to believe that it was meant to augment President Obama’s terrorism speech last night.