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Archive for Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Terror alert colors may disappear

July 15, 2009

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— It’s code blue for the color-themed terrorism advisories.

The Obama administration has begun a review that could spell an end to the advisories, long derided by late night TV comics and portrayed by some Democrats as a tool for Bush administration political manipulation.

It’s not likely the review will plunge an alert system into the dark all together, but short of that, everything is on the table for consideration, according to one administration official familiar with the plans. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about potential outcomes.

The alert system assigns five different colors to terror risk levels. Green at the bottom signals a low danger of attack and red at the top warns of a severe threat. It was put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was designed to help emergency responders get prepared.

But it’s been the butt of late-night television comics’ jokes and criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for being too vague to deliver enough useful information.

“Like yesterday, apparently, went from blue to pink and now half the country thinks we’re pregnant,” “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno said on March 14, 2002. “To give you an idea how sophisticated this system is, today they added a plaid in case we were ever attacked by Scotland.”

And Democrats have said the Bush administration used the system for political manipulation to trumpet the administration’s anti-terrorist credentials.

“They raised and lowered it several times in fairly rapid succession,” former national Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said. “It had something to do with politics.”

For example, in August 2004, then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the alert level to orange, the second-highest level signifying a high risk of attack, in Washington, New York City and Newark, N.J., because of potential threats to financial buildings there. But Democrats questioned the Bush administration’s motives, because the change came as they concluded their presidential convention and swung attention to national security, the signature issue of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the review Tuesday by a panel of 17 people that include Democrats and Republicans, mayors, governors, police executives, and public and private security experts.

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