DHS Urges Vigilance Over Next 12 Months

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Department of Homeland Security is advising employees to be on increased alert beginning next month through next summer because of a series of upcoming high-profile events including the Olympics, both major parties' nominating conventions, Election Day and the presidential transition.

A department spokesman said a draft internal document will soon be released citing a "period of heightened alert" between August and roughly July 2009, urging DHS agencies to review emergency response plans and intensify coordination and intelligence analysis.

The move is based on the nation's increased vulnerability to a terrorist attack, not on any specific or credible new threat information, spokesman Russ Knocke said. The department is not raising the national color-coded threat warning level from yellow, or elevated, nor is it changing its security posture or operations, Knocke said.

"This series of high-profile events over the months ahead is leading us to conclude that there's a period of heightened vulnerability," Knocke said. "I think this is something the American public would rightly expect for us to be doing."

The nature of the alert and how it was disclosed -- through a leak to the news media that was quickly confirmed by DHS officials -- underscored how much has changed since 2004. That August, senior Bush administration officials called a rare Sunday news conference to raise the threat warning level from orange, or high, for financial institutions in Washington, New York and New Jersey, before returning it to yellow soon after Election Day.

Authorities based the warning on intelligence, but critics said the alarm was too broad and they accused the administration of seeking to manipulate the political climate. Officials have since moved away from altering the threat level for the public, although they elevated it in August 2006 to high for the aviation sector, where it remains, after a London plot to blow up transatlantic airliners was stopped.

Attacks that occurred within days or months of political transfers of power include the first assault on the World Trade Center in February 1993; the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; the Madrid train bombings in March 2004; and failed car-bomb attacks in London and Glasgow last year.

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