WASHINGTON — The threat level has never gone below yellow, once went to red and now may fade to black.
The Department of Homeland Security is poised to end its five-tiered, color-coded terrorism warning system, a post-Sept. 11 endeavor that has been called too vague to be useful and has been mostly ignored or mocked by the public.
So forgotten is the system that DHS has not even changed the terror alert level in four years, even after the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Instead of changing the alert color, within 24 hours of the foiled plot the DHS opted to issue new security measures to airlines and businesses.
One alternative under consideration is to change to only two threat levels: elevated and imminent. Under the new model, whenever the threat level is changed to "imminent," government officials would be expected to be as specific as possible in describing the threat and recommending a response without jeopardizing national security.
DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa declined to comment on any recommendations that might be under review, but said that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano "is committed to providing specific, actionable information based on the latest intelligence."
A senior homeland security official, who did not want to speak on the record about a decision still under review, was more blunt: "The goal is to replace a system that communicates nothing."
The homeland security advisory system was created in 2002 under then-Secretary Tom Ridge. In 2004, DHS began assigning color threat levels to general targets such as aviation, financial services and mass transit.
The lowest level is green (low), and it can be elevated to blue (guarded), yellow (elevated), orange (high) and red (severe).