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A look at America's orange alerts
Scripps Howard News Service


April 12, 2005

Washington - It has been more than eight months since an "orange alert" has been imposed in America - the longest the nation has gone without being under a high terror threat since the color-code system began in 2002.

The last time came Aug. 2, 2004, when a partial elevation from "yellow" to "orange" was ordered for selected East Coast financial institutions.

On Tuesday, three men were indicted in connection with that threat, which was based on years-old information that they allegedly had scouted for attack the New York Stock Exchange; the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington; the Citicorp Building in New York; and the Prudential Building in Newark, N.J.

Under the often-lampooned color system - which then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge instituted in September 2002 in advance of the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks - code yellow means that an "elevated" risk of attack exists. Orange means "high" risk.

Since then, criticism has mounted that the color designations are too imprecise to be useful. Some Democrats ascribed political motives to the August alert, which came in the last months of a hotly contested presidential campaign.

New Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who took the reins from Ridge in February, has ordered a review of the department's policies and operations, including the color codes. That review is still ongoing.

Before last August, there had been five "orange" alerts. No attacks occurred. The alerts were issued on:

  • Sept. 10, 2002 - Tips received of a possible attack on the anniversary of 9/11.
  • Feb. 7, 2003 - "Specific intelligence" received that the end of the Muslim religious Hajj period could trigger attacks against U.S. targets at home and abroad.
  • March 17, 2003 - "Chatter" intercepted indicating terrorists would attempt "multiple attacks" if the United States launched an invasion of Iraq, which it did two days later.
  • May 20, 2003 - Ridge said that al Qaeda had "entered an operational period worldwide," which might include attacks in the United States.
  • Dec. 21, 2003 - A "substantial increase" in intelligence collected pointed to "near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11," Ridge said.


E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)

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