- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday lowered the terrorism threat from its second-highest level after an anxious three weeks as Americans stocked up on supplies in case of an attack.
The announcement was made in a joint statement issued by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said their decision to lower the level from orange ("high") to yellow ("elevated") was based on a review of recent intelligence and the end of the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
"The lowering of the threat level is not a signal to government, law enforcement or citizens that the danger of a terrorist attack is passed. Returning to the elevated level of risk is only an indication that some of the extra protective measures enacted by government and the private sector may be reduced at this time," the statement said.
The statement emphasized the significant risks still faced by the United States, based on information from detained al Qaeda operatives, who say their members will wait until they believe Americans are less vigilant and less prepared before striking again.
"For this reason, and for the safety and security of our nation, Americans must continue to be defiant and alert. We must always be prepared to respond to a significant risk of terrorist attacks," the statement said.
"The American people serve as our strongest defense against terrorism. We ask all citizens to be aware of any suspicious activity and to report it to local authorities or the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the statement said.
However, New York will remain in the "orange" alert status, where the city has been since the March 2002 debut of the color system.
Jerrold Post, a specialist on terrorism and a professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University, said lowering the alert level would not send a signal to terrorists that Americans are no longer vigilant. Rather, he says it emphasizes "just how vulnerable we are as a nation."
Lowering the alert has more of a psychological impact on terrorists than on Americans, Mr. Post said.
"To go on high alert certainly has to bring a sense of satisfaction to terrorists. The goal of terrorists is to terrorize, and the reaction to Code Orange and sealing up rooms and buying stores out of duct tape at one level was viewed by Osama bin Laden and his crew as a measure of their success in inflicting terror up Americans," Mr. Post said.
Capitol Hill Democrats questioned the effectiveness of the color-coded terrorism advisory system, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the threat-level indicator doesn't give residents real-life information they can use or steps they can take.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said raising the threat level for the entire nation is not helpful, because places such as his home state were probably not in the same position as cities such as New York and Washington.
However, Democrats stopped short of criticizing the administration for its approach to homeland security and do not question the decisions behind raising the threat level earlier, nor lowering it yesterday.
"I don't think there is any value in second-guessing their decision," Mr. Daschle said.
On Feb. 11, a new audiotape surfaced in which a voice believed to be that of Osama bin Laden urged al Qaeda followers to carry out suicide attacks on Western targets.
One week later, Mr. Ridge announced a readiness campaign that included homespun tips for surviving a chemical, nuclear or biological terrorist attack.
Consumers snatched rolls of duct tape and sheets of plastic off store shelves in droves after the Homeland Security Department urged people to have the tools to be prepared for a chemical attack.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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