U.S. Said to Consider Scrapping Color-Coded Terror Alerts Used at Airports
The U.S. Homeland Security Department may abandon its eight-year-old system of assigning colors to terrorist threat levels that has been criticized by U.S. lawmakers and lampooned on “Saturday Night Live.”
The agency, which created the system following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hasn’t changed the threat color since 2006. The senior administration official who spoke about the prospective change today declined to be identified because the decision isn’t final.
The system may be discontinued as the department’s Transportation Security Administration grapples with the threat of airline passenger protests during the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday over new full-body imaging and pat-down procedures at airport security checkpoints. TSA chief John Pistole, in an interview Nov. 19 at Bloomberg’s Washington office, said his agency should have communicated better with the public about the checkpoint changes.
“I am unable to characterize the content of recommendations under review,” said Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department. “We are committed to providing specific, actionable information based on the latest intelligence.”
Travelers had complained about the five-tiered system, which was never lowered to green or blue, the bottom two levels. In its eight years, it has fluctuated between yellow for “elevated” and orange for “high,” once reaching red for “severe” in August 2006. The threat level was lowered to orange that same month and has remained there.
Six Shades of Beige
In March 2002, after the color-coded system was introduced, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” a weekly television comedy, performed a satirical skit in which a cast member portraying a Homeland Security official described a color-coded system consisting of six shades of beige.
Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat who has served on the House Intelligence Committee, called the system “meaningless” in a 2009 interview, echoing a finding in a 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress.
“I don’t expect that it would change the travel experience or the security check-in processes,” Castelveter, whose group is based in Washington, said in an interview. “I doubt very much that decision will affect the security screening processes.”
The change was reported by the Associated Press earlier today.
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