- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

LONDON — The official level of threat from a terrorist attack has been secretly lowered from its highest rating for the first time since the July 7 bombings, prompting criticism that the decision was not publicly announced.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the decision was made Thursday by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC), a government body based at the headquarters of the MI5 domestic intelligence service.

The threat level was reduced from “critical” or Level 1 — its highest state — to “severe general” or Level 2G because intelligence sources do not have any specific information relating to imminent attacks.

“It is entirely within the remit of JTAC to lower the threat level if the intelligence suggests that there is no likelihood of an attack, but why has this information not been relayed to the public?” said Patrick Mercer, the opposition Conservative Party’s spokesman for homeland security.

In the United States, such decisions are announced publicly.

The downgrading happened despite warnings from Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, that further attacks were “more rather than less likely.”

Home Secretary Charles Clarke also said last week that, “It would be absolutely foolish of me, or anybody else, to say that we’ve eliminated the risk. We haven’t.”

Although the “threat” level has been lowered, the “alert” level, which runs in parallel and is also decided by JTAC, remains at its highest rating. It governs how buildings and transport systems are guarded and affects police manpower and use of resources.

“It is government policy not to comment on threat levels for a wide range of reasons including security,” a Home Office spokesman said. “Advice would be issued if the public needed to take specific action.”

JTAC, which is independent of ministers, is made up of senior staff from the intelligence agencies and government officials. Its head, a senior civil servant who cannot be identified, reports directly to Eliza Manningham-Buller, MI5’s director-general.

Meanwhile, London police said yesterday they made only minor changes to their directive on the use of deadly force after killing an innocent man mistaken for a terrorist, the Associated Press reported.

The review followed the July 22 killing of a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, who was wrongly suspected of being a suicide terrorist.

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