Homeland Security secretary: US to revise terror alert system to improve communication

The Obama administration will announce changes to the terror alert system "in the coming days," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will announce changes to the terror alert system “in the coming days,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday.

Johnson described the change as a new alert system, which he said would better inform the public about threats to the United States, but he did not provide specific details.

This will be the third change to how the Homeland Security Department warns the public about security concerns since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The much maligned colour-coded system was replaced in 2011 by the National Terrorism Advisory System, which has never been used.

Johnson announced the new alert system during a forum with Defence One magazine. He said the National Terrorism Advisory System hasn’t been used because it requires a “specific, credible threat” to the U.S. in order to be activated. The new effort will include an “intermediate” step, he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said later Monday that the alert system wasn’t being replaced, but rather tweaked to be more effective. He said a review of the system had been doing on for “quite some time.”

“You should not consider this a replacement of this program, but rather some important reforms of the program that would allow it to be more effectively used to communicate with the American public,” Earnest told reporters.

The plan to change the system was announced in the wake of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which the FBI has declared a terrorism investigation. The FBI is investigating the possibility that shooting suspects Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik were inspired by the Islamic State group to carry out the attacks that killed 14 people attending a holiday luncheon at a social services facility.

Johnson said that while a specific motive has not been determined in the California case, the threat from home-grown radicals or those inspired by foreign groups is a growing concern in part because such attacks may not be discovered in advance. The new terror alert system, he said, better “reflects the current environment and current realities.”

“We need a system that adequately informs the public at large … about what we are seeing, what we are doing and what we are asking the public to do about it,” Johnson said.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of the alert system is the National Terrorism Advisory System.

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