|For Immediate Release
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Full Committee Hears Testimony Regarding the Homeland Security Advisory
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
"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."