Orange Alert! Orange Alert!

CNN – U.S. raises threat level at key financial sites

The United States on Sunday raised the terrorism threat level to code orange (high) for the financial services sector of New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced. Ridge cited “new and unusually specific information about where al Qaeda would like to attack.” The nation’s threat level remains at category yellow (elevated). New York has remained at orange since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Interesting. This is the first time I’ve seen the alert level reported in this fashion: that certain areas are at a higher level than others. I didn’t realize that New York had stayed orange throughout. There’s actually some logic to this employment of the system, rather than a blanket panic mode.

If that’s the case, though, then this makes no sense:

Among the precautions New York police recommended Saturday to companies are:

# Consider posting a security officer at the fresh-air intake in heating, ventilation and air conditioning rooms, if they are accessible to the public, and be sure the rooms are locked.

# Be wary of visitors who appear lost or disoriented, and people asking directions to sensitive areas.

# Challenge and identify maintenance workers when maintenance has not been requested, and watch for unanticipated deliveries.

# Quickly engage loiterers.

# Thoroughly screen new employees and vendors.

# Post clear signs indicating restricted areas, and that persons caught trespassing will be arrested.

# Test alarm systems, and include doors to rooftops in the system.

If the city has been on orange alert for nearly three years–and is staying on orange alert–then the need for additional measures is unclear.

New York is preparing for the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to begin August 30 at Madison Square Garden. The Department of Homeland Security has named the convention a national special security event, meaning the Secret Service will coordinate security. Ridge said in early July that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attack in “an effort to disrupt the democratic process” before Election Day on November 2.

Certainly, the Republican convention is a more inviting target, since the sitting president will be in attendance.

UPDATE (1551): AP has a related story, “Gov’t Warns of Threats Against Buildings.” The relevant/new material:

The federal government warned Sunday of possible terrorist attacks against “iconic” financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J., saying a confluence of intelligence over the weekend pointed to a car or truck bomb.

Specifically, the government named these buildings as potential targets:

_The Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange in New York City.

_The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington.

_The Prudential building in Newark.

“The preferred means of attack would be car or truck bombs,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a briefing with journalists. That would be a primary means of attack.”

***

The secretary said the government took the unprecedented step of naming specific buildings because of the level of specificity of the intelligence. “This is not the usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary detail,” Ridge said. He said the government decided to notify the public because of the specificity of detail it had obtained. Ridge acknowledged that protecting these buildings, located in heavily populated areas, would require additional security measures, especially because thousands of cars and trucks travel through these cities daily. “Car and truck bombs are one of the most difficult tasks we have in the war on terror,” Ridge said.

That would explain the new measures despite not raising the local alert level.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.