- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

A bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to strip the hue from the government’s color-coded terrorist alert system is gaining momentum.

A package of legislation moving through the House eliminates the Department of Homeland Security’s use of colors to change the threat level, and calls for more specific threat information to be shared with the private sector and local governments.

“The color code doesn’t provide any information to people, what it does is foster a climate of anxiety without giving useful information to people,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, who worked with Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican, on the legislation.

“It’s not a proper way to give a nationwide response to actual threats.”

The current system, implemented by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, has frustrated governors and local officials nationwide who say they are forced to spend millions responding to threat level rises without information as to whether it directly affects their region.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, information sharing and terrorism risk assessment, chaired by Mr. Simmons, yesterday approved the plan by voice vote. It now awaits action by the full committee.

“There are no plans to change the color-coded system at this time,” said William Knocke, Homeland Security spokesman.

“The system itself has matured over time as the country’s baseline of preparedness rises and our threat analyses improves.”

The last time the alert level was raised was July 7-12 after the London subway bombings.

Mr. Ridge tweaked the system in 2004 when specific economic areas were thought to be terrorist targets in New York, New Jersey and in Washington, and limited the increase in security and spending to those specific cities.

The terrorist alert system was introduced in March 2002 in five color-coded stages; low (green) guarded (blue) elevated (yellow) high (orange) and severe alert (red).

The country has been on elevated level since the code was introduced and the terrorist threat has been raised five times to high nationwide.

The White House briefly went to severe alert when a private aircraft accidentally crossed over its restricted airspace in 2005. The country has never been on low or guarded alert.

The legislation also gives full authority to Homeland Security officials to issue an increase in threat levels. In the past, conflicting warnings were sometimes issued from the Justice Department then led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, which created confusion, the legislation notes.