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Panel to Homeland Security: terror warning system doesn't work

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After much ridicule and political controversy, the United States’ color-coded terror warning system may be facing its end. That’s one of the recommendations a special task force made Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the future of the terror warning system.

While some members of the group, advocated doing away with the color-coded system altogether, there was a unanimous agreement that if the system remains, reforms must be made to restore public confidence in it.

The system was created after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Between 2002 and 2006 the Bush administration raised or lowered the threat level 17 times, but it has never dropped to the bottom two levels.

Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary, wrote in his recent memoir that he faced pressure from the Bush administration to change the threat level for political reasons. This played a significant role in his decision to step down in 2004.

Under the current system, politicians would be unlikely to lower the threat level to one of the bottom tiers regardless of what intelligence they had because an unexpected terrorist attack could provide their enemies with lethal fodder, reports the Washington Post. With issues like this as part of the public discussion, the system has failed to win widespread confidence, says Frances Townsend, co-chairman of the Napolitano task force.

“The system's ability to communicate useful information in a credible manner has been poor,” Townsend told a Department of Homeland Security advisory committee. … “The American people should be provided with as much detail -- consistent with national security -- that is focused on specific locations and sectors at specific risk,” she said. They should also be confident that "alert states, if elevated, will be lowered back to normal" within 15 days, absent credible intelligence of a continuing threat, she said.
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