US adds ‘bulletin’ category to terror alert system

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Expect more police and tighter security during the holidays.

WASHINGTON • The U.S. updated its terrorism alert system on Wednesday, unveiling a new “bulletin” category intended to better inform the public about evolving terrorist threats. US authorities on Wednesday added a new “bulletin” category to the national terror-alert system, aimed at communicating intelligence on lower-level threats to American citizens.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.

Shoppers and travelers will see more police and tougher security checks in public places and events during the holiday season, according to a Homeland Security bulletin issued Wednesday. However, he issued the department’s first bulletin which warns of a “new phase in the global threat environment” with “implications for the homeland.” “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. Alert systems should not feel completely unfamiliar to Americans, as the government used a different version from just after the 2001 September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon until 2011. (Such systems will also be familiar to readers of fiction and moviegoers. Johnson reiterated that while there’s no specific threat, the government remains concerned about terrorist-inspired extremists, such as the attackers in California who killed 14 people before dying in a shootout with police. “As we saw in the recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, terrorists will consider a diverse and wide selection of targets for attacks,” the DHS notice said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, photographed at FEMA Headquarters on December 16, 2015, discussed the nation’s threat-warning system and changes to it designed to communicate lower-urgency updates ©Alex Wong (Getty/AFP) Under the new system, the lower-level category of “bulletin” will be used for “describing broader or more general trends and current developments regarding threats of terrorism,” the DHS said. 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. Such measures are also seen in the 1983 film “War Games.”) The alert system, which the Obama administration overhauled in 2011 and has not used since, previously had two levels – “elevated,” which corresponds to credible threats, and “imminent,” which informs the public of more specific threats.

The system was put in place following the 9/11 attacks, when terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in separate incidents in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. 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. FBI Director James Comey told US media the two had exchanged private messages in late 2013 “showing signs in that communication of their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom.” But he said that, despite reports to the contrary, there was no evidence the pair posted public messages supporting jihad on social media at that time — something that could have alerted investigators to their intenttions. Johnson said he revamped the system to make the public more aware of threats the government is seeing, how authorities are responding, and what people can do. If the public knows how serious a threat is, what geographic area it affects, and how investigators are trying to take care of it, they may feel less anxious about interruptions by security forces on their daily routines.

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