A bipartisan task force has recommended that the Obama administration simplify and reset the U.S. government’s iconic color-coded terrorism warning system to the lowest of three new levels, if it keeps using levels at all, says the Washington Post. The findings, which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she will share with the White House and national security officials, could lead to substantial changes to a widely criticized, politically sensitive tool created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to alert the nation to threats.
Since its inception, critics have ridiculed the Homeland Security Advisory System — keyed to five colors running from green, or “low risk,” to red, or “severe risk” — for being vague and unhelpful. In raising and lowering alert levels 17 times from 2002 to 2006, the Bush administration opened itself to charges that it was manipulating the system for political effect. Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush’s first homeland security secretary, acknowledged in a recent memoir that his personal concerns about that possibility contributed to his decision to step down after Bush’s reelection in 2004. The nation never has been below the third, or middle-threat, tier — yellow, or “elevated risk.” Analysts say it is unlikely any politician would risk lowering the level, regardless of threat intelligence. Frances Fragos Townsend, co-chairman of the Napolitano task force and Bush’s former homeland security adviser, said the system has lost the confidence of the public.