The Department of Homeland Security spent $90,000 to have a consulting firm review its latest color-coded threat index.
The Institute for Defense Analyses rejected the chart. It said the idea was misleading, confusing and simplistic. The reds, yellows and greens notating different levels of threat are a “disaster,” the firm said.
“DHS should learn from its own history and avoid repeating this error,” the non-profit corporation that administers federally funded research and development centers said in a 53-page report.
The DHS kept the index and the scathing report secret from the American people. It was revealed after the Associated Press asked the department if it planned to revive the threat matrix chart after a previous one was dropped five years ago.
“Currently, there are no color-coded border security indexes or metrics being considered by the Department of Homeland Security,” spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told the news organization.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who heads up the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, took the department to task after the botched chart was made public.
“DHS spent $90,000 on a question we already know the answer to,” Johnson said. “Measuring the security across our borders is complex and requires sophisticated and consistent metrics—not a series of colors.”
In December, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson introduced a new threat warning system that replaced 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.
The previous chart led to a number of false positives.
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
“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.
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