Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has announced a new terror threat warning system. It replaces the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) that replaced the original cartoonish color-coded terror warning system instituted after September 11, 2011.
“We need to do a better job of informing the public at large 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,” Johnson said at the Defense One Leadership Briefing in Washington.
Johnson said NTAS was replaced because it “depends upon a specific, credible threat to the homeland.” The new system has an “intermediate threat-level” that can be activated when there is no specific threat issued by the government but there is supposedly a concern over “copycat attacks.”
The DHS boss used as an example the heightened security posture taken at federal government buildings after a man opened fire on the parliament building in Ottawa, Canada, last year.
At the time Johnson announced “a precautionary step” to protect federal government facilities from “small-scale attacks by a lone offender or a small group of individuals.” The DHS directive was carried out by the Federal Protective Service, a federal law enforcement agency.
The move was “not based on any specific, credible information at this time indicating any active plot against government officials and law enforcement in the United States.’’
The suspect in the Canadian shooting that left two soldiers dead was a mentally ill drug addict, according to his family. Michael Zehaf Bibeau was kicked out of a Vancouver mosque for drug use and strange behavior. He was not affiliated with the Islamic State or any other terror group.
The federal government’s spurious threat level system has faced constitutional challenges in the past.
For instance in November 2002, the city of Columbus, Georgia forced all people planning to protest at the School of the Americas to first submit to a metal detector search. The city justified its violation of the Fourth Amendment by saying the DHS threat level was yellow at the time indicating an “elevated” threat that posed a “significant risk of terrorist attacks.” The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled this to be a post hoc justification for illegal searches.
The original threat level matrix was also criticized because it was used for political manipulation and propaganda purposes.
The government was accused of exploiting the threat system on the eve of the November, 2004 election. “After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector,” said former homeland security chief Tom Ridge in his book The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … And How We Can Be Safe Again.
The DHS admits the system is unable “to communicate useful information in a credible manner” and raising the threat level “has economic, physical, and psychological effects on the nation.”
Elevating the threat level over non-specific and largely imaginary terror threats will undoubtedly produce “psychological effects on the nation” and inflate the theatric element of the terror propaganda campaign. In fact, this is its primary purpose.
Following the Paris attacks and San Bernardino we can expect incessant terror scares predicated on political objectives to further and expand the war on terror, the war in Syria and the Middle East and the police and surveillance state at home.