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US Updates Terror Alert System

  • Molly McKitterick

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson discusses the updates to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), Dec. 16, 2015, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Response Coordination Center in Washington.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson discusses the updates to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), Dec. 16, 2015, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Response Coordination Center in Washington.

The U.S. has updated its terror alert system, adding a terror alert “bulletin,” intended to inform the public of developing terrorist threats.

Unveiling the new intermediate warning category Wednesday in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson emphasized that there is no credible, specific information about a threat to the United States at the present time.

However, he issued the department’s first bulletin which warns of a “new phase in the global threat environment” with “implications for the homeland.”

The bulletin reiterates what Johnson and other federal officials have said in the days following the terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino.

“Particularly with the rise in use by terrorist groups of the Internet to inspire and recruit, we are concerned about the “self-radicalized” actor[s] who could strike with little or no notice,” the bulletin continues.

It delineates U.S. government counter terrorism measures and suggests ways the public can help by noticing and reporting suspicious behavior.

Bulletins remain in effect for six months, so this one will expire in mid-June.

Warning System Changes

A terror alert system was first established in the U.S. after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was a color-coded system with five levels from low (green) to severe (red).

“One of the issues with the color bars was that there was very little public commentary to go with them,” said Johnson, “and there’s a certain de-escalation factor here. Once you elevate, it’s difficult to de-escalate.”

In 2011, the color-coded system was replaced with the two-level National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) to which the bulletin category has been added. NTAS included an Elevated Alert, warning of “a credible terrorism threat against the U.S.” and an Imminent Alert that warns of “a credible, specific and impending terrorism threat.”

NTAS has never been activated, although Johnson said his department had considered issuing an alert earlier this year but decided there was not enough specific information to do so.

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