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Today's threat level: Confused
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


May 13, 2005

One artifact from 9/11 is the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded threat-alert system. Code Green for low risk; Blue for guarded; Yellow for elevated; Orange for high; and Red for severe.

The thermometer-like advisory on the department's Web site has been mostly stuck at Code Yellow, although nationally it has been raised to Code Orange six times, most recently in December 2003. Locally, a Code Orange was issued for financial institutions in New York, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Many skeptics believed that if the threat level wasn't raised and lowered for overt political reasons it was at the least done on an arbitrary basis. And now former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has confirmed that the latter part was true.

He said that his department was often opposed to raising the threat level, finding no compelling reason to do so, but was overruled by other members of the president's homeland security council. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, it seems, was a regular proponent of raising the threat level.

According to Ridge, "There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For what?' "

It's a good bet that the threat level might continue to vacillate between Yellow and Orange and a safe bet that it's unlikely to drop to Blue or Green, because no official wants to take the risk of going, say, to Code Blue and then having something happen. It's just politically safer to stay at Yellow.

The time for the threat code has passed. Most people have forgotten about it, are confused by it or just don't believe it. If there is an actual threat-level indicator in the lobby of Homeland Security headquarters, the new secretary, Michael Chertoff, should send it over to the Smithsonian.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,


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