Bush administration officials again are getting complaints that they overreacted to terrorism threats and caused a national frenzy for nothing, reports Newsweek. Four times before, the country had gone to Code Orange, and each time the feared attacks never materialized. The Homeland Security Department feels forever caught in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If they hadn’t issued the alert and a holiday attack had taken place, the department would have been blamed for being caught unprepared and failing to warn the public. “This is in some sense a paranoid business,” says one counterterrorism official wryly.
Newsweek says that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had resolved to increase the alert status only with very credible intelligence pointing to specific attacks. A few days before Christmas, he could no longer wait. What changed his mind was a deluge of intelligence that seemed to point to imminent attacks on U.S. cities. “For the first time, people were definitely freaked out,” says a senior U.S. official. In Las Vegas, the FBI demanded that hotel owners disclose the names of everyone who booked rooms through New Year’s so they could be matched against a master list of suspected terrorists. When one big hotel refused, it was slapped with a subpoena. It turned out to be a false alarm. As one counterterrorism official put it, the efforts produced “zilch.” Homeland Security officials say the display of vigilance may have deterred terrorists. “When you prevent something, you may never know you prevented it,” says a Homeland source. Administration officials told Newsweek that the Code Orange alert will likely remain for a few more weeks.
Foreigners entering U.S. airports and seaports from most nations will have fingerprints scanned and photographs taken this week as part of a new program to tighten border security. Ridge was in Atlanta today to help launch the program, says the Associated Press. On CBS’s “The Early Show,” Ridge he that during a pilot program, authorities turned up nearly two dozen people, including some with felony records, and deported them.