20 May 2003
U.S. Terror Alert Level Raised to Second Highest Level
(Intelligence assessments indicate al-Qaida in operational period)
By Alicia Langley
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The Department of Homeland Security announced May 20
that following an assessment of threats reported by the intelligence
community, it is raising the U.S. terrorist threat level to code
"orange," which means a high risk of terrorist attack.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, in a statement, said the U.S.
Intelligence Community believes that "al-Qaida has entered an
operational period worldwide, which may include attacks in the United
Ridge said that in the wake of terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and
Morocco, "al-Qaida and those sympathetic to their cause are still a
principal threat," but he added that "threats may also emanate from
other anti-U.S. terrorist groups, regional extremist organizations,
and ad hoc groups or disgruntled individuals not connected to existing
terrorist organizations or state sponsors of terrorism."
The new threat level, orange, indicates a high risk of terrorist
attacks. This is the second highest level on the five-color scale. The
previous level, code "yellow," marked an elevated risk and had been in
effect since April 16.
The secretary said there is no "credible, specific information with
respect to targets or method of attack," but he noted that the tactics
used in recent terrorist attacks overseas included "small
arms-equipped assault teams, large vehicle-borne explosive devices,
and suicide bombers."
"These attacks underscore terrorists' desires to attack soft targets,"
he said, and warned that the use of "weapons of mass destruction,
including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents
or materials, cannot be discounted."
Undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson told reporters at a
separate news briefing May 20 that "the use of tactics similar to
those that we have seen in recent terrorist attacks has to be
considered; they cannot be discounted."
Those include use of small-arms-equipped assault teams, large
vehicle-borne explosive devices, and suicide bombers, Hutchinson said.
"This is not to indicate this is going to happen in the United
States," he said, "but when we see a pattern of activity overseas
directed at United States targets, we certainly have to be aware that
there remains that potential of use of those type of tactics here in
the United States."
The Department of Homeland Security has recommended that Americans
continue with their plans, but be vigilant at large public events and
among crowds, and report suspicious activity to the FBI. Memorial Day
weekend, which runs from May 23 through May 26, is a holiday in the
United States marked by large outdoor gatherings. Ridge said the
nation's governors and other state and local officials have been asked
to review their current security measures and deploy additional police
A "High" condition is declared when there is a high risk of terrorist
attacks. In addition to protective measures taken, federal departments
and agencies consider general measures such as coordinating necessary
security efforts with federal, state, and local law enforcement
agencies or any National Guard or other appropriate armed forces
organizations; taking additional precautions at public events and
possibly considering alternative venues or even cancellation;
preparing to execute contingency procedures, such as moving to an
alternate site or dispersing their workforce; and restricting
threatened facility access to essential personnel only.
Neither the White House nor President Bush makes the decision to alter
the national threat level, but the president is consulted once the
recommendation has been made.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said "the Homeland Security
Council convenes to review the facts, the circumstances, the
intelligence, and listens to the judgments of the experts around the
table about whether or not the code should stay at its current
elevated level or be raised to a higher level. They review that
information, and it is the decision of the Homeland Security Council.
What typically happens is they will make the decision, they will come
to the president with it. The president will basically acknowledge it,
but it is the decision of the Homeland Security Council."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
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