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Color Code for Terror Alerts Said to Be on Way Out

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is abandoning its color-coded threat guide, adopted by the George W. Bush administration, in favor of a system that alerts specific groups about detailed threats, a U.S. official said.

The new system will recommend actions to be taken to guard against the threat, said the official, who lacked authorization to discuss the program and requested anonymity. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce the change tomorrow in a speech in Washington, the official said.

“I definitely appreciate the department’s effort to revamp the alert system,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “It was clearly time for the current color-coded system to be replaced with a more targeted system.”

The Associated Press reported earlier that the color codes will be dropped by the end of April. The new initiative will be called the National Terrorism Advisory System, the AP said.

In November, a senior administration official who declined to be identified said scrapping the color codes, adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was under consideration.

There have been complaints about about the five-tiered system since its adoption. In its eight years, the alerts fluctuated between yellow for “elevated” and orange for “high,” reaching red for “severe” once, on Aug. 10, 2006. In that case, the alert was applied to flights coming from the U.K. after discovery of a “well-advanced plan” suggesting that al-Qaeda was plotting to use liquid explosives and detonators disguised as electronic devices to blow up jetliners in midair.

The threat level was lowered to orange three days later and has remained there. The green or blue symbols, representing the lowest threat levels, have never been used.

“Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed or for how long to be on alert,” Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House homeland security panel, said in a statement.

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