DHS will update terror alert system, to lower bar on warnings

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The Department of Homeland Security will shortly announce a new terrorism warning system, effectively lowering the bar for alerting Americans about possible terror threats, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday.

Speaking in the aftermath of the recent San Bernardino, California, rampage shooting — the first by supporters of the Islamic State in the U.S. — Johnson noted that the two-tier National Terrorism Advisory System, introduced four years ago by his predecessor Janet Napolitano, has never issued an alert, despite several terrorist attacks in the homeland during that time. The NTAS requires “credible, specific” intelligence of an “imminent” threat to warn the country.

“It has this trigger that’s a pretty high bar, which is why we’ve never used it,” Johnson said.

The husband-and-wife mass shooting in California — which killed 14 people, making it the deadliest attack by terrorists in the U.S. since 9/11 — was just the latest in a series by so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, inspired but not directed by foreign extremists. Law enforcement officials say that the absence of communications about their plotting, in particular electronic contact with foreign terrorists abroad, make such attackers very hard to discover

“I believe that in this environment, we need to get beyond that and go to a new system that has an intermediate level to it,” Johnson told a Defense One event in Washington. “And I’ll be announcing soon hopefully what our new system is that I think reflects the current environment and the current realities.”

Amid growing concern earlier this year about the Islamic State’s effort to recruit lone wolves, Johnson announced in October a review of the NTAS, which was itself a replacement for the Bush-era color-coded terror alert system that was scrapped after being discredited by the mockery of TV comedians and more serious allegations that its use had been politicized.

To replace the NTAS, Johnson said, he would unveil a new system that “adequately informs the public at large not through news leaks of joint intelligence bulletins to law enforcement, not through leaks from anonymous government officials, but … that informs the public at large what we are seeing, even if what we are seeing could be self-evident to the public.”

DHS must do a “better job of informing the public about what we are seeing, removing some of the mystery about the global terrorist threat, and what we are doing about it and what we are asking the public to do. So, I’m hoping that I will announce this in full in the coming days,” he concluded.

Contact the reporter on this story at Shaun.Waterman@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @WatermanReports.

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, terrorism
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