IWS - The Information Warfare Site
News Watch Make a  donation to IWS - The Information Warfare Site Use it for navigation in case java scripts are disabled

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Full Committee Hears Testimony Regarding the Homeland Security Advisory System

The Select Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing today to gain a better understanding of our color-coded national warning system. The Committee heard testimony from Admiral James Loy, Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, and John Brennan, Director, Terrorist Integration Center.

Chairman Cox made the following statement:

"Since September 11, 2001, we have made dramatic, undeniable progress in securing our homeland. Everyone here agrees on that. The President and the Congress have joined forces to lead a fundamental transformation in the way the federal Government views our national security --and how it should relate to State and local governments, as well as to the private sector to promote the security of the American people and our homeland.

"Today, we want to get a better understanding of the Homeland Security Advisory System itself -- our color-coded national warning system -- its purpose, how it actually works, and its potential, including how it could be improved. The System's color-coded warnings have become the primary means by which the federal Government communicates directly to the public its bottom-line judgment on the risk of terrorist attack at any given time. The President¡'s directive establishing the System puts it plainly: "The higher the Threat Condition, the greater the risk of a terrorist attack."

"Adjusting the threat condition up or down is, in short, a very significant public statement to the American people by their Government. As a result, we have learned that raising the national threat level can have direct implications not only for personal safety, but may also entail widespread changes in personal behavior, including travel and spending patterns, with corresponding, if temporary, effects on the Nation's economic conditions. The key point is that the reliability and timeliness of the Advisory System's national threat warnings must be unquestioned.

"I want to stress at the outset the public nature of the color-coded warning system. The Homeland Security Act provides, in section 201, that the Department¡¦s Homeland Security Advisory System responsibilities include ¡§exercising primary responsibility for public advisories related to threats to homeland security." [sec. 201(d)(7)(A)] I think it follows that what we use the System's public advisories -- its color-coded warnings -- to say, we should be willing and able to explain publicly. Because the Homeland Security Act goes on to note that the Department's HSAS responsibilities have a second element that need not be public, the responsibility -- "in coordination with other agencies of the Federal Government, [to] provid[e] specific warning information, and advice about appropriate protective measures and countermeasures, to State and local government agencies and authorities, the private sector, other entities, and the public." [sec. 201(d)(7)(B)].

"So we need to make sure that we use the public threat advisory system to advise the American public of threats that are truly national in scope or to warn of region- or sector-specific threats that we are able and willing to identify and discuss in public -- including as a means of diverting or delaying potential attacks. That is to say, we should not be using the public, color-coded threat advisory system to warn of terrorist threats that are not national in scope, if we are not willing to discuss them publicly. For them, we should be using the second element of the statutory provision I just quoted.

"That brings me back to the cost issue. Securing the homeland is expensive. Every national terrorist threat warning triggers a massive chain reaction throughout our society. Government officials at all levels, businesses of all sorts and sizes, as well as individual citizens are left with the fundamental question, "What does 'Code Orange' mean for me?" The answer, in the absence of specific guidance as to the nature, potential targets, and likely timing of the threat has been a nationwide piling on of enhanced security measures, breaking State and local overtime budgets, and redirecting their personnel from their other duties. If we can avoid -- or diminish -- that effect, we should, and soon. "It is, after all, a fundamental part of the terrorists' strategy to destroy our economy and our way of life. We must not, through our well meaning efforts, give them any help. All across America, in our public and private institutions, we are spending considerable sums of money to enhance our security and we must do it wisely. It is enormously intrusive and unnecessarily expensive to call a heightened state of alert across the nation when hard intelligence shows that only certain parts of the country or certain sectors of our critical infrastructure are at increased risk.

"The case for such reform is in the numbers. Reports describing "Code Orange"-related expenditures, include, for example:

"A January 23rd Los Angeles Times article that cites LAX officials reporting that during the most recent rise to Orange, their security costs amounted to more than $3.8 million dollars since December 21st.

"An Associated Press report that officials in New Orleans spent between $200,000 and $300,000 a week in police overtime because of the latest Orange alert.

"A U.S. Conference of Mayors survey that shows cities spent about $70 million per week in Orange alert-related expenses. Phoenix, for example, spent $154,000 on a weekly basis. Los Angeles spent $2.5 million each week, and New York City racked up $5 million each week in additional expenses.

"We cannot expect states and localities to sustain such unbudgeted expenditures indefinitely. To take a closer and more comprehensive look at the incremental costs incurred by federal, State, and local government agencies in responding to the last three Code Orange alerts, this Committee made a bipartisan request for a GAO study. Initial findings, reported to the Committee last week, show that State and local officials would like to receive more detailed guidance to help them determine what protective measures to take in response to Orange alerts. They also want DHS to provide more information on region- and industry-specific threats. They are right. Responding aimlessly over and over to a generalized warning draws down resources without any assurance of enhancing anyone's safety. It may, over time, actually contribute to a degradation of this nation's vigilance -- warning fatigue -- and so diminish the utility of the Homeland Security Advisory System.

"We must, in sum, strike an appropriate balance between providing meaningful warning where hard intelligence warrants it and causing a senseless, unfocused, nation-wide response to unspecified threat alerts. I look forward to our witnesses' views on how best to strike that balance."