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12 August 2005

Homeland Security Lowers Terrorist Threat Level for Mass Transit

Improved long-term security measures drive change, Secretary Chertoff Says

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security lowered the terrorist threat level August 12 for the nation's mass transit systems, 36 days after the London terrorist bombings that spurred the increased security measures.

 "While we are changing the threat level at this time, we continue to urge state and local officials, transportation authorities and the general public to remain alert," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.

Chertoff said federal officials felt it was safe to lower the alert status after working closely with state and local governments to develop and implement sustainable security measures that are tailored to each region's transit system.

"In light of these increased long-term measures, DHS is lowering the national threat level for the mass transit portion of the transportation sector from Code Orange, or high, to Code Yellow, or elevated," he said.

The changes became effective at 8 p.m. (0000 GMT) August 12, following local rush hours across the country, and at the discretion of state and local authorities, he said.

"Concurrently, the Coast Guard will lower the Maritime Security level for large passenger ferries from level two to level one, which corresponds with Code Yellow," Chertoff said.

The United States raised its terrorist threat level July 7 following terrorist bombings of three London subway lines and a commercial, double-decker bus that killed 56 people, including four suicide bombers.  The alert was extended after terrorists attempted to repeat the attacks on July 21.

The concern at the time was to prevent any "copycat" attacks on U.S. systems, though there was no intelligence to suggest that such attacks might happen.

Although the overall national threat level is being lowered for mass transit, many systems, particularly the larger ones, will maintain a strengthened security level beyond what existed before the London attacks, including a number of the security enhancements that were put into place for the July alert, Chertoff said.

"The Department of Homeland Security will continue to closely coordinate with our federal, state, local and private sector partners, and we will share any information developing from the London bombing investigation to continue to address potential vulnerabilities in the mass transit sector," he said.

Chertoff said that there is no specific, credible intelligence now suggesting that an attack in the United States is imminent.

"However, we are also aware that the London and Madrid bombings were conducted without warning," he said.

Terrorists attacked the Madrid commuter rail network on March 11, 2004, with bombs planted in rail cars that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500 others.

Chertoff said the federal government will continue to monitor and analyze threat information and share that information with guidance for protective measures with state, local and private sector authorities, as well as the general public.

The July alert was specifically raised for the U.S. mass transit system, and was the seventh time the terrorist threat level was raised to orange since the five color-code system was created in 2002, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.