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DHS Ponders "Improving" Terrorism Alert System 320

An anonymous reader writes "The DHS's color-coded terrorism risk warning system has often been criticized on a number of grounds. However, it seems that at last DHS has taken note of these criticisms and is finally planning to fix one of its problems. Which one? Well, since the two lowest levels have never been used in the history of the program, the solution is obvious: just get rid of them! In the new system, the lowest level would be yellow, 'guarded,' representing 'A constant state of vigilance to protect against a terrorist attack.' While it's nice that they're at least no longer maintaining a pretense of it being for anything other than fear-mongering, I don't think this was the kind of change most people were hoping for."
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DHS Ponders "Improving" Terrorism Alert System

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  • *sigh* (Score:2, Insightful)

    Let's just declare martial law and get it over with.

    • by pzs ( 857406 )

      The problem with doing that is that such a sudden change will make their motives clear. They have to use this frog-boiling approach - essentially a very gradual declaration of martial law - so that nobody will notice a sudden change and complain.

      Pedants: Yes, I know the frog boiling thing is a myth [].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        es, I know the frog boiling thing is a myth

        Professors are a funny lot. In all of those debunking claims, nobody actually... you know... tried to boil a frog. Instead, they theorize about it and proclaim their stances quite loudly...

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Josejx ( 46837 )

          I think you need to read a bit more closely. A quote from the Article:
          "He described how the critical thermal maximum for many frog species has been determined by contemporary research experiments: as the water is heated by about 2F per minute, the frog becomes increasingly active as it tries to escape, and eventually jumps out if the container allows it."

          Seems to indicate that they tried it.

      • by fracai ( 796392 )

        I find this bit incredibly appropriate.

        The story is thought to have originated with the work of German physiologist Friedrich Goltz, who demonstrated that a frog will indeed remain in slowly heated water, but only if its brain is removed.

    • by Abreu ( 173023 )

      Yeah... and institute mandatory daily Two-Minute Hate sessions while we are on it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ArsonSmith ( 13997 )

        Thought we already had that:

        for a while we had 15 minutes of hate against insurance execs
        then we had our 15 minutes of hate against auto execs
        then we had our 15 minutes of hate against bankers
        then we had our 15 minutes of hate against tea baggers
        now were going back to having 15 minutes of hate against racists (isn't that hate for haters?)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Yeah... and institute mandatory daily Two-Minute Hate sessions while we are on it.

        Fox News is already on 24/7.

        • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Informative)

          by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:30PM (#29467775) Journal

          Yeah... and institute mandatory daily Two-Minute Hate sessions while we are on it.

          Fox News is already on 24/7.

          Keith Olbermann is doing his two minute hate sessions [] on Fox? When did this happen?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      Let's just declare martial law and get it over with.

      Why do you assume they are acting with nefarious intent when a much simpler explanation is good old fashioned Governmental incompetence?

      • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:36PM (#29467841) Journal

        Why do you assume they are acting with nefarious intent when a much simpler explanation is good old fashioned Governmental incompetence?

        Because the parties responsible benefit from the behaviour, which suggests intent. The USA's military budget is a wonder of the Modern World. Politicians get away with deleting public records in the name of security, those that want to go on military adventures for the benefit of private companies they are associated with get to do so. Laws that make it harder to protest against unpopular actions get passed ("Free Speech Zones" - wtf?) resulting in greater freedom for those in power to act without visible criticism. Surveillance, warranted and unwarranted (literally) is passed with little criticism. And all on the ticket of fear.

        So you tell me, if factions of people have the smarts to gain control of one of the biggest nations on Earth, institute policies that benefit them in myriad ways to your own detriment, why on Earth would you call them incompetent? Cost overruns on various government projects? Ask yourself where the overspend is going. It doesn't just vanish - it goes into someone's pocket.

      • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

        by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:40PM (#29467893)
        Isn't it funny how an entire office goes crazy with word about *possible* layoffs coming, but somehow "Someone" (which always seems to be the other major political party than the person telling you) has this hugely elaborate plan, involving ridiculous amounts of logistics and pre-planning, involving thousands of people.. And nothing is leaked? I mean really, Not a single whistleblower in the government? I mean hell, an executive can't even buy a Corporate Jet, or $30,000 wastebasket and keep it from the media.. but "they" are building mass concentration camps, and planning an elaborate means at turning this country into a puppet controlled by the Illuminatti. Or that they reaaaalllly want to force everyone to depend on the government for health care so that <insert silly reason here>.... Yeah. that makes much more sense then just stupid committee decisions by government employees, who are constantly having to cover their ass..

        They don't drop the terrorism alert level, because IF they dropped it to its lowest, THEN an attack happened, they would be dragged in front of congress, and be forced to testify about why they are so stupid, then be fired..
    • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

      by misexistentialist ( 1537887 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @01:54PM (#29468961)
      Partial suspension of habeas corpus, increased surveillance, paramilitary "police", restrictive border controls, property seizure, etc. mean we almost have de facto martial law. An oppressive government would never declare martial law anyway, but would disguise its actions under a layer of propaganda.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:46AM (#29467159)

    Green - Dangerous minorities in the area. Lock the doors.
    Yellow - asians are messing with our computers again. Use Linux.
    Orange - Mexican drug gang wars are spilling over in to the United States. Wear Kevlar.
    Red - Socialist President. Abandon the country.

    These terror alert levels write themselves.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Red - Socialist President. Abandon the country.

      No: Red Socialist President. Go to a town hall, scream a lot, wave your automatic weapons in the air, and scream, YOU LIE!!!!!!!!

    • "A symbolic clock is as nourishing to the intellect as a photo of oxygen to drowning man"

      -Dr. Manhattan

    • The colors currently in use are ambiguous and arbitrary. To make it clearer, they should replace them with flavors.

    • Green - Dangerous minorities in the area. Lock the doors.

      But does this include the president?

  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:46AM (#29467161)

    "Purple alert! Purple alert!"
    "What's a purple alert?"
    "Well, it's like not as bad as a red alert, but a bit worse than a blue alert -- sort of a mauve alert."

                - Lister and Holly

  • ... Obama would just get rid of the alert system entirely. It was developed by GW Bush, and therefore is just fundamentally wrong. It just creates panic anyways ... it servers no real purpose ... nobody is going to hide in their bunkers or join a local militia if we go to the highest terrorist alert level, are they?
  • by LitelySalted ( 1348425 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:47AM (#29467173)

    This system provides no real benefit to the American populace other than to instill fear.

    I don't stop what I'm doing because for some reason or another, the day has been ranked a "red" terrorist day.

    Really, all it does (besides instilling fear) is give news sources something to talk about briefly.

    • Don't you mean "give news sources something to talk about ad nauseum".
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

      My parents did the same with me. Always making sure i was home before dark, that i didn't reach for boiling pots of water on the stove, trading my lunch money for toys, telling me to not get in cars with strangers. i was far more likely to be hurt playing tag than to be kidnapped if i got in a car with a stranger. What the hell did my parents know? It wasn't any of their business anyway where i was or who was holding me for ransom. Fascist fear mongering assholes.

      And don't get me started about "locking"

      • More to the point, your parents cautioned you against talking to strangers. They didn't wake you up in the morning and say, "Be especially vigilant today, little Timmy, it's a RED ALERT kidnappers day!"

        Awareness and sane response to threats is the path of a mature, informed citizen. Spreading some kind of terrorist tea-leaf weather report is fear-mongering, plain and simple. (And just what are American citizens supposed to do in response to "threat levels," anyway?)

        • by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @01:38PM (#29468753)

          Terrorists have chatter... we have people investigating and listening in. There's also OpSec. When a cell changes behavior it can be an indicator that they're up to something. Militaries and gov'ts do the same. When the Pentagon starts ordering more pizza all the sudden... something's up. Kidnappers generally don't give such signals. Nor do we have the CIA/FBI tailing them or the NSA listening to them.

          If there was a string of robberies in your neighborhood and the cops stopped by to inform you of this... would that be fear mongering?

          To me fear mongering would be:

          "You're going to be robbed if you don't vote for me and let me double the police force"
          "Your soul will burn in hell forever if you don't send me money or if you love someone of the same sex"

          Indications suggest likely attack + No warning given to public + *boom* = Why didn't you warn us?
          No warning + *boom* = Why weren't you looking into this?
          Warning given + no *boom* = FEAR MONGERING!1! FASCISMS! LoL!
          Money spent on CIA and NSA + No terrorist attack = Why are we spending all this money?
          Give warning + *boom* = You didn't do enough to prevent it.

          There is no winning in security, just managing the value of the asset against the likelihood of attack to determine the level/cost of securing it. The money you spent on Schlage locks was a waste... unless someone tries to break in and FAILS. If they succeed or no one tries, the lock was a waste, right?

          i suppose the CIA and NSA *could* reveal their sources and methods and give us a break down of why they think an attack is more likely today than yesterday. "Jeff, our agent in Kabul overhead a conversation between Abdul and Habeeb. Jeff will be staying at the Kuwait Marriott for the rest of the week, his family lives in Arlington. Abdul and Habeeb, please change your target or time table, enjoy the head start." Great idea.

          The lack of "what we're supposed to do" is a fault in the system (which can be changed). But calling it tea-leaf weather report assumes a great deal of incompetence or malice in the gov't... or indicates a great deal of paranoia.

          Having lived with and worked with the people who do this kind of work for my entire life and having been an intel analyst with a clearance i can't name here... i think you're either very uninformed (which isn't entirely your fault), or you're letting paranoia/partisanship do your thinking. Yeah, W was an evil idiot, but he wasn't an all powerful mastermind nor as bad as we wish him to be.

    • by Kozz ( 7764 )

      You're right -- the system is mostly worthless to the civilian. The original intent of the color-coded scheme was to provide guidance to law enforcement agencies. Each color actually corresponds to specific guidelines for them.

      I'm not defending the program as such -- just clarifying the DHS's original intent as best I understand it.

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:48AM (#29467193)
    At times of no war, the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed. This happened several times during the reign of Augustus. Since then, this rarely happened, often because the Persians were being a nuisance.

    In this respect, not much seems to have changed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Samgilljoy ( 1147203 )

      Well, actually, the Parthians were the nuissance. The Persian Empire had long since fallen.

      That said, the surname of the family that gave us the now deposed (and deceased) Shah of Iran, Pahlavi, is the Old Persian word for "Parthia."

  • No Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:48AM (#29467203)

    Ignoring the fear that it was probably _designed_ to instill in the population and potentially the global population... It's just a pointless system.

    If this system is at all meant for the general population, it's failed. When I go out on vacation, or planning on visiting a major city and/or landmark, I never even think of the Alert colors.

    I understand that it may potentially only be for government agencies, especially law enforcement, but even then does saying we're at yellow, or orange, or even red _really_ give them direction? I'm assuming even if there are general rules in place to "do x and y when at color z" they only get rudimentary things done. Say, bringing in more personnel or putting more people on standby status. Even the agencies need to know _what_ to look for and in what fashion the event is predicted to take place.

    Really, beyond fear, I can't see the point in the system at all. If there is something to report to the public, report it. If there is something to report to government agencies, I bet there are a bunch of better ways, already in use, to alert the proper acronyms of the who, what, when, where, and why.

  • How about this ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:50AM (#29467227) Journal

    Government WANK alert system. Whereby the wankiness of a government is scaled by public opinions, and if the scale hits a certain point, everyone in public office at that time is tossed out at once, and we elect a whole new batch?

    We can have a National Referendum day in 60 days from the time the WANK alert is triggered. 15 days to register to run, 15 days to organize campaigns, and 30 days to run. If people campaign before the official campaign limit, they are automatically excluded from the ballot.

    And nobody can run if they have ever held elected office before.

    I'm sick to death of Damned Professional Politicians. Lets get some amateurs in and see if they can do better.

    • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:16PM (#29467569)

      I'm sick to death of Damned Professional Politicians. Lets get some amateurs in and see if they can do better.

      I always thought this was a good idea. Ok not a good idea clearly but it points out how poor our election system really is. To make it to the top in politics you have to be a corrupt fast talker who is willing to do w/e it takes. This is exactly what you DON'T want in politics.

      Then we actually got to take it to the test. California elected a bodybuilder that knew nothing of politics, hadnt gotten the necessary education and spent most of his life covered in oil flexing. Clearly this man has many disadvantages as a politician. And came to power through being the ultimate victor of the popularity contest so he was never forced to be a 'politician'.

      Considering he was given a state with many referendums which is a huge disadvantage. I think he has done quite well. He even used his weight as a state to push various issues country wide. And since he did it as a republican he has done much to tie the sides together, working in a non-partisan way. This has been a great healing effect on the state and you don't see the same fervent partisan attacks you do in other big states.

      Now imagine if we chose someone uncorrupted by politician but also someone who was well educated, spent their life learning political theory and philosophy. And better yet not forced to kowtow to the pubic opinion. People often say democracy isn't the best system it's the best we've had so far. I don't know if that is true, looking at the current state of politics I often wonder if returning to a monarchy system or other ancient system would be that bad. The only real advantage democracy has is that people are less likely to rebel since they are given the illusion of control through the election process.

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        That bodybuilder is also a very successful businessman, who built most of his wealth through study and hard work.

        And... first you ask for amateurs to run for office, then you want people who've spent their lives studying politics. Isn't that what "professional politicians" ARE?? Make up my mind!!

        Fact is, if we had more successful BUSINESSMEN (the kind who've built a business from the ground up) in office, maybe the country would be run in a more businesslike fashion and we wouldn't waste taxpayer dollars on

    • Government WANK alert system. Whereby the wankiness of a government

      Lame. This should have been about the government warning us of an imminent need to wank.

      See, the problem with the current Terror Alert is that there is basically nothing you or I can or should do differently in response to its changing level. So what good does it do other than make us nervous and stressed? But that's no good, stress is bad and leads to people making stupid mistakes that could let a terrorist attack in. So the warning sh

    • How about being Senator, Representative or even President for a 6 months.

      People to hold these positions are randomly selected. The service is voluntary, you can opt out for the next instance or opt out completely for hardship reasons.

      Each month a sixth of each office are replaced.

      The lottery for each office is held on TV to ensure randomness.

  • by neurogeneticist ( 1631367 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:52AM (#29467261)
    Green = "Go ahead, let your guard down, see what happens" Yellow = "There is a new budget up for vote, and if you don't give DHS more money the terrorists win" Red = "Imminent threat, only direct intervention by Steven Segal can prevent global disaster" Black = "We told you this would happen if you didn't give DHS more money"
  • Those "threat levels" dont mean anything anymore because we are numb to them. The harassment that you get through security is really just an illusion: if you feel like you are inconvenienced and your stuff is being searched, then you feel safe. I remember going through security 3 times on one trip...getting to my hotel and pulling out the power brick from my briefcase only to have my pocket knife come out with it. I didnt intentionally bring it...but...holy crap on a crap cracker...I made it through secu
    • by schon ( 31600 )

      The harassment that you get through security is really just an illusion

      No, the harassment is real. It's the security that's the illusion. :) (But I think that's what you meant :)

  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:59AM (#29467341) Journal

    Here []

    Color Code Fuchsia Security Status ("Relatively High").

    Color Code Magenta Security Status ("A Tad Higher Than Relatively High, but Not Totally High.")

    Color Code Security Status Mauve ("Calm, but Tense").

    Color Code Security Status Key Lime ("Partly Cloudy").

    Color Code Security Status Maroon ("Dark Brownish Red").

    Color Code Security Status Peach ("Viewer Discretion Advised").

    Color Code Security Status Burnt Umber ("Medium Rare").

    Color Code Security Status Tangerine ("Uh-Oh").

    Color Code Security Status Jalapeno ("Everyone Down!").

    Color Code Security Status Traffic Cone Orange ("Yipes!").

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

      "So we urge all citizens to continue leading normal lives, while remaining in a state of stark, butt-puckering terror."

      Hehe. I love Dave Barry.

  • by theIsovist ( 1348209 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:03PM (#29467399)
    That's not exactly true. DHS Sets Security Alert Level To Green For 8 Seconds []
  • Law enforcement use a similar color code system. Officers must always maintain the "always alert" (on guard) awareness level of vigilance. The only reason to have codes below this is for training and discipline purposes. If an officer lets their guard down and drops below the "always alert" level, the safety of the officer and/or citizens can be jeopardized. So, on a public spectrum, I agree with the change that the public only need to know our code awareness level from "Guarded" on up.
    • So, on a public spectrum, I agree with the change that the public only need to know our code awareness level from "Guarded" on up.

      Actually RTFAing, I see the proposed levels and while still almost certainly useless bullshit, they seem less like useless bullshit than the current system. They aren't just scrapping the lowest two levels, they're changing their meaning.

      # Yellow = Guarded - "A constant state of vigilance to protect against a terrorist attack."
      # Orange = Elevated - "Increased protective measur

  • The Onion (Score:2, Redundant)

    by snarfies ( 115214 )

    That's funny, The Onion just ran a story on this very topic: []

  • It has only two levels:
    • Go Find A Helmet
    • Put On The Damn Helmet
  • Dyslexic Rainbow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @02:16PM (#29469315)

    Personally, I'm just happy to see the change because it means no more putting blue in between yellow and green. That always bugged me, as a slightly OCD person who used to sort things in rainbow order, from crayons to the Skittles I was eating.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong