[Gadi Adelman is] "Leading in the movement in the study of counter-terrorism", Dr. Walid Phares, Advisor to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the US House of Representatives

Why is Our Government Hiding the Truth About Our Safety?

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Last week we heard, “In reality, our airlines are not safer for our families. They are more vulnerable to attack and infiltration than prior to 9/11.” It’s time for citizens to act.

SeverityRatingAt the time of this writing, the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) website lists our terror threat level as follows:

The United States government's national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow.
For all domestic and international flights, the U.S. threat level is High, or Orange.
For those of us who have forgotten our rainbow of colors, here is a refresher course.

Severe (red): severe risk, High (orange): high risk, Elevated (yellow): significant risk, Guarded (blue): general risk, Low (green): low risk.

Now, everyone, pay close attention here: Our current threat level is Elevated, or Yellow and has been the same since August 12, 2005 (excluding domestic and international flights). From August 10, 2006 to present, the status has been High, or Orange for all domestic airline flights and all international flights to or from the United States, with the exception of flights from the United Kingdom to the United States. Flights from the United Kingdom to the United States had been under a Severe, or Red alert, but were downgraded to High, or Orange on August 13, 2006. Got that? Okay, glad we cleared that up.

I seem to recall all the discussions and special panels and charts and colors and arguments and decisions our DHS had prior to introduction of the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) back in 2002. At that time, when then Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge introduced the new Advisory System, he stated,

“I want to publicly express my appreciation to Attorney General Ashcroft and his extraordinary team at the Department of Justice, as well as Bob Mueller and his team at the FBI, as well as my own Office of Homeland Security. The staffs of these respective agencies and organizations have been working for months, put long, long hours in to create this system. And their extraordinary effort should be acknowledged in a public way.”

He also stated,

“It provides a common vocabulary, so officials from all levels of government can communicate easily with one another and to the public. It provides clear, easy to understand factors which help measure threat. And most importantly, it empowers government and citizens to take actions to address the threat. For every level of threat, there will be a level of preparedness. It is a system that is equal to the threat.”

I, for one, am glad that the system was made so easy to understand, and that “it provides clear, easy to understand factors which help measure threat.” Not to mention that “officials from all levels of government can communicate easily with one another and to the public.” Of course, it has been such an overwhelming success that back on July 14, 2009, Secretary Napolitano established the Homeland Security Advisory System Task Force to conduct a 60-day review of the HSAS. The mission of the task force was to assess the effectiveness of the system in informing the public about terrorist threats and communicating protective measures within government and throughout the private sector. In a press release, Secretary Napolitano stated, “My goal is simple: to have the most effective system in place to inform the American people about threats to our country.” I’m sorry, I’m confused, were we not already told back in ’02 by our then Director of Homeland Security that this new system was in essence the greatest thing since sliced bread?

The final Task Force report of the HSAS makes several valid points. For example, page one of the report states, “ The Task Force members agreed that, at its best, there is currently indifference to the Homeland Security Advisory System and, at worst, there is a disturbing lack of public confidence in the system.” The task force was, however, divided on the color code system we currently are using. On page 2 the report states,

“As to the specific question of whether to retain some form of the nation’s current color code system, the Task Force was divided. Although recommending reform of the current system, half of the Task Force membership believes the concept of color-coded alerts is sufficiently clear, powerful and easily understood to be retained as one element in the Secretary’s alerts to the nation. By equal number, Task Force membership believes the color code system has suffered from a lack of credibility and clarity leading to an erosion of public confidence such that it should be abandoned. However, the Task Force members are unanimous, that if the Secretary decides to retain a system of alerts utilizing colors, that substantial reform is required.”

Wow, and these people get paid for this? Half think the current color system is “sufficiently clear” while the other half believes the color code system “should be abandoned.” Nonetheless, they all agree that if colors are continued “substantial reform is required.”

The section that I feel hits the nail on the head from the 17-page report was on page 5, titled, “Recommendations for the whole system” under “Fuller disclosure.” The task force writes, “The Secretary should consider, consistent with national security concerns, the declassification and disclosing of:

  • Specific detail of the threat information (e.g. credible, specific, actionable)
  • Region and sector most affected
  • Level of credibility and confidence in the threat information
  • Steps government is taking to respond to the threat
  • Protective measures public can take
  • Places to go to get more information
  • When and how the government will keep public updated”

The report has novel ideas about alerts that are issued by the Secretary, that they should provide the fullest degree of information possible and that during periods of threat, communications from the Secretary – or her designate – should be ongoing and regular. It specifies that there should be the greatest transparency possible on the process by which alert decisions have been made. Such as what triggered the alert? Who has been involved in the considerations? Who has made the final decision? Not to mention complete absence of political interest in the decision process. In reference to notifying the public the report goes on to say that the

“system should stay current with the communications revolution and adopt an ‘all tools’ approach in reaching the general public such as new media generally (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Wikis, etc.) Bloggers, social media, delivery through PDAs, Public sign up for online/PDA alerts.”

At the time the recommendations were sent to Napolitano, she indicated that she would pass along the results to other Cabinet members and officials at the White House. On January 14, 2010, CNN reported that a senior DHS official said that the secretary's review process is still taking place.

Still taking place? Good thing we haven’t had any terror attacks since July of 2009! Oh, that’s right, 2009 saw one-third more terrorist plots than all other years combined since 9/11.

Even though Secretary Napolitano has sat on this report for over five months, it is still shocking and frightening that on Tuesday, February 2nd, during the Congressional Intelligence Committee hearings, the following exchange took place between Sen. Diane Feinstein and the nation's top intelligence chiefs.

Sen. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What is the likelihood of another terrorist-attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months? High or low? Director Blair?

Mr. DENNIS BLAIR (Director, National Intelligence Council): An attempted attack, the priority is certain, I would say.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Panetta?

Mr. LEON PANETTA (Director, Central Intelligence Agency): I would agree with that.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Mueller?

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): Agree.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: General Burgess?

Lt. Gen. RONALD BURGESS (Director, Defense Intelligence Agency): Yes, ma'am. Agree.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Dinger?

Mr. JOHN DINGER (Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Intelligence and Research): Yes.

Sen. Feinstein’s question was phrased “high or low?” And the answer she received was “certain?” Why are we just hearing about this now? Why did the American public not hear about this sooner? Even more importantly, if the Senator had not asked that question would we have heard anything about this at all?

The threat level for the aviation sector didn't change after the Christmas Day incident and as I noted above we have been at “Yellow” or “Elevated” since 2005.

According to a January 30th report from MI5, the United Kingdom's counter-intelligence and security agency, Britain and the United States are facing a new al Qaeda terror threat from suicide “body bombers,” with explosives surgically planted inside them. How many Americans heard about this in the news recently, let alone from our government? Many security experts think that our current system fails in every respect and I tend to agree. Dr. James Jay Carafano, a homeland security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, "It's ineffective as communicating to the American public. And it's obsolete in terms of kind of managing national preparedness levels, it really is useless."

The problem here isn’t just a failure to communicate; it is that our government does not want to communicate. In last week’s article, I said that people tend to have this attitude that if we pretend it doesn’t exist, it can’t hurt us. A big part of that attitude has been instilled by our government. They are keeping the truth from us and they honestly believe it is for our own good. As Dave Gaubatz noted in his recent article entitled “A Retired Airline Pilot Speaks Out on Airline Security,” “In reality, our airlines are not safer for our families. They are more vulnerable to attack and infiltration than prior to 9/11.”

Since 9/11, since the creation of Homeland Security, since the changes in the TSA and since our supposed increased National security, I have been saying that we are not any safer today than we were on 9/10. Everything our Government has done is nothing more than window dressing. It is meant to make you, the traveler, and the citizen, feel safer. Taking nail clippers away from grandma while practicing proper political correctness and ignoring anyone who meets the exact statistical age and heritage of a terrorist does not make us safer. Telling the public that better security has been put in place while keeping alerts from us does not make us safer.

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to ignite a bomb he smuggled on board a flight to Detroit and failed, who stopped him from trying again, the passengers. When Flight 93 was hijacked on 9/11 and would have undoubtedly been used as a missile on our Nation’s capital, what stopped it and brought the plane down while sacrificing themselves? The passengers. Since 9/11, civilians have been the eyes and ears of our intelligence community countless times and many terror attacks have been thwarted or stopped in the earliest stages.

During WWII, while this country was fighting another global war, civilians were constantly used in many areas for the war effort. The Civil Air patrol was established, the Auxiliary Coast Guard often used civilians and their boats, and the Coastal Watchers was made up of many civilians as well. The Women Air Force Service Pilots, also known as WASP, and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) were each a pioneering organization of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces.

So why is our own government hiding the truth from us and trying to make us believe that everything is safe and fine while we are fighting another global war? Do they believe that the public would be in a mass panic if we knew the truth? Did our country fall in to mass hysteria on 9/11? I remember that on 9/11 I, like everyone else, wanted to go to New York to help in anyway I could. Blood banks across the country actually had lines of people waiting to go and give blood. Civilians, everyday people came out of the woodwork to volunteer in anyway they could. One thing America has always had whenever it faced any tragedy is its people.

In Israel, the public is the first line of defense when it comes to terrorism. Israel would not have survived to this day had it not been for its civilians being the eyes and ears for its nation’s security. When was the last time you heard a public official tell you “if you see something out of the ordinary or you think it’s just not right, call your local FBI office?” When was the last time you saw a public service announcement or poster, let alone one that explained what to do or who to contact if you have a tip on possible terror activity?

During a National Press Club meeting, on August 7, 2007, Newt Gingrich was one of the guest speakers. He was asked about the war on terror. His answer was not scripted and was eye opening to those who bothered to listen. He started by saying,” I am really deeply worried. We have two grandchildren who are 6 and 8, and I believe they are in greater danger of dying from enemy activities than we were in the Cold War.” He pointed out our enemies thought process and said, “There are thousands of people across this planet who get up every morning actively seeking to destroy the United States.” But, the most chilling part of the speech was when he stated, “I’ve been at this a long time. I am genuinely afraid that this political system will not react until we lose a city.”

We, the American public, need to demand that our government, consistent with national security concerns, should trust its people with the information required to keep us safe. It is essential that we demand the government realize that in order to be proactive, rather than reactive; it must rely on its people for information, as we are the first line of defensive. Lastly, we must tell our government that we not only can “handle” the truth, but we demand it! Our current rainbow color chart is a joke and I, for one, don’t want to wait until America loses another person due to terrorism let alone, as Mr. Gingrich said, “a city” before our government wakes up and realizes it can not do it all alone.

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