WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department soon will tell its employees to review security and emergency plans as the country enters a period of heightened alert to last for several months because of the Olympics and U.S. presidential election.
The Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympic Games, presidential nominating conventions in August and September, Nov. 4 elections and transition to a new administration pose opportunities for terrorists to attack. Drafts of the heightened alert document were circulated in the past few weeks, and a final document is expected soon.
Intelligence officials are reporting no new, credible information about a specific threat to the country, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Monday. There are also no plans to raise the color-coded threat level, which was last raised in 2006 after officials uncovered a London plot to blow up U.S.-bound airplanes.
The alert level was raised from yellow (elevated) to orange (high) in the aviation sector, and it has not been lowered since. The alert level across the country remains at yellow.
"We're ramping up our focus on everything we do," from threat analysis to planning and preparedness, Knocke said. This includes making sure federal emergency managers are up-to-date on response plans, such as how to respond to an improvised explosive device attack.
"Quite frankly, I think that the way the department is approaching this is what the American public would expect," Knocke said.
The Homeland Security Department was created in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Next year will be the first time the department is operated under a new administration. The department has about 208,000 employees.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is sending similar reminders to its agents and analysts to dust off emergency phone lists and plans as the country enters into this vulnerable period.
Government officials were criticized after Sept. 11 for not taking seriously enough warnings about the potential for a terror attack.
The current threat picture is one of vulnerability and not specific, credible threats, intelligence officials have said. The Olympics and other high-profile events, such as the presidential nominating conventions, are vulnerable to terror attacks. But U.S. government officials are not working off specific threats to the events.