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Alan J. Munn




    The finally abandonned, DHS color alert system had two components: prediction and advice.

    The predictive part of the alert system has five colors, each of which theoretically represents an increased probability of terrorist attack. In ascending order of probability of attack, the colors are:

    1. green ("low risk of terrorist attacks")
    2. blue ("general risk of terrorist attacks")
    3. yellow ("significant risk of terrorist attacks")
    4. orange ("high risk of terrorist attacks")
    5. red (highest probability in the DHS predictive system, what DHS calls "severe risk of terrorist attacks").
    DHS's use of the word "general" (to define the probability indicated by blue) is a mistake. DHS does not mean a general risk (as distinguished from specific risk). DHS blue probably, really means a risk that is higher than low (which is green). Blue is not a more general risk, or a less specific risk, than any other DHS color. DHS use of the term "significant risk" to define yellow may mean that the lower risks (namely, green and blue) are insignificant.

    There are five DHS prediction-recommendation colors. Why are there five colors rather than some other number? Maybe there are five colors because there are five fingers per hand and five toes per foot. There do not seem to be any important, counterterrorism data that cluster into five groups.

    DHS does not use numbers or other clear, specific concepts to define colors. For example, a 25 per cent probability of terrorist attack in the next ten days is not necessarily any one of the five colors. Because all DHS definitions of colors are so vague as to be meaningless (e.g., "general" risk and "significant" risk), it is impossible for anyone to know which DHS color is right. Thus, announcing that a new DHS color characterizes America (as in, "America is moving from yellow to orange.") is a metaphysical ceremony which fools engage in and bigger fools are impressed by.

    In the period from 1 January 2003 to 30 December 2003, every day was yellow ("significant risk of terrorist attacks") or orange ("high risk of terrorist attacks"), according to DHS. During that period, no one in America was killed or injured by a politically motivated terrorist (the kind of terrorist that DHS cares about). The lowest-risk DHS color is green.

    The DHS five-color alert system, in addition to being a predictive system, is a set of recommendations. For example, one should consider canceling public events at orange (and higher risk) times, and one should consider closing public and government facilities at red times. So far, the DHS color-related recommendations have helped no one in America. For example, following DHS's color-related recommendations does not seem to have prevented any deaths or injuries in America yet.

    Some places are more likely to experience terrorist attack than other places. Does the DHS intend its prediction- recommendation colors to describe the safest place, the most dangerous place, both, or neither? DHS does not seem to intend its colors to apply to the safest place in America (the place with the lowest risk of terrorist attack). For example, on 11 August 2004, the DHS color was yellow (significant risk of terrorist attack) except for some financial places in east coast cities. DHS seems to have meant that the most dangerous places are yellow (except for those financial exceptions). DHS probably did not mean that every place (for example: Flat, Alaska) was at least yellow (significant risk of terrorist attack) on 11 August 2004. DHS probably thinks that the safest places are green or blue (DHS's two, safest colors). There is no way to know which places DHS believes are yellow. Thus, the DHS color does not seem to apply to any particular locality. Thus, the DHS color probably is meaningless and useless to local officials seeking advice about what to consider doing in their locality. (However, it is conceivable that this paragraph is wrong, and that DHS thinks that Flat and every other place in America was yellow [significant risk of terrorist attack] on 11 August 2004 except for some financial places on the east coast.)

    On 16 August 2004, DHS's color code system had the financial places exceptions described in the paragraph above. News articles on the web sometimes report that New York City (not just some financial places in New York city) is orange, and has been orange since DHS's color system was started, although the news articles do not explicitly write which agency declared New York city orange. If DHS had declared New York city orange, why did DHS later declare at least one building in New York city (Citibank headquarters building) orange? Wasn't that building already orange because it was in New York city? In any event, there seem to have been at least occasional DHS exceptions to the color which appears on DHS's color code announcement Web page: the early exception (New York city), and the later exception (financial places at least one of which was in New York city). Are there other exceptions? DHS's color announcement page (most of which was unavailable because of "server not responding" error on 16 August 2004) should clearly list all exceptions to DHS's color, so that people who read the page will know what it applies to. To the extent that the page fails to clearly list all exceptions to the announced color, the page misleads people who rely on it. By the way, DHS has removed the east coast financial places special color. As far as we know, all finacial places on the east coast now have the same color as buildings across the street.

    (Do DHS colors affect premiums charged by insurers? Do insurers care what color DHS thinks a place is? If we were in charge of sales at a fire insurer, we would not want our sales people to sell a policy for a building that will go up on the former World Trade Center site, which has had terrorist-caused fire in two years, especially if the building were as gigantic and spectacular as the WTC towers were. Probably there are fire insurers which sell high-risk policies.)

    Terrorists are interested in landmark buildings and in buildings which symbolize government, America, capitalism, and the enemy's power. For an office building to be as safe from terrorism as possible, the building should symbolize as little as possible. From an anti-terrorist perspective, office buildings should just inconspicuously be somewhere: fitting in, not standing out (security through obscurity). Although DHS gives advice to tenants (for example, residential tenants should buy plastic sheets and duct tape), DHS has no advice to tenants on how to choose premises. From the perspective of avoiding murder by terrorists in America, the safest floors for tenants in any building probably will be those that are high above the ground (written 10 September 2004). This does not mean that high buildings in America will be safer than low ones; merely that, in any building, tenants on the higher floors probably will be safer from terrorist murder than tenants on the lower ones.

    Terrorists in America will kill more people in multistory, freestanding, government-owned buildings than in other buildings (even though the vast majority of buildings in America are those other buildings). 18 September 2004.

    Terrorists in America don't seem to be reluctant to attack any specific counties or cities. There don't seem to be any American cities or counties whose counterterrorist forces make terrorists choose a different place to attack.

    Incidentally, according to an article entitled "Terror Threat Against Synagogue Was False Alarm" (13 August 2004, by Nathaniel Popper, once at the Forward Web site at, officers of Jewish organizations in New York city think that DHS's color code system has caused confusion. We agree with that conclusion of those officers. DHS should reduce confusion, not cause it.

    Does the DHS color apply to America only or to the entire world? For example, if there were zero probability of terrorist attack in America, but certainty of terrorist attack on Americans out of America, what would the DHS color be?

    1. DHS's color alert web page mentions possible "attacks against the U.S. or our interests abroad". Such attacks will not necessarily be in America, especially if they are against our interests abroad. Where the same page says that "... we continue to be at risk ....", DHS seems to mean that we Americans (not necessarily in America) continue to be at risk. Also on DHS's color alert web page, DHS emphasizes the risk of attack by al Qaida or attack in conjunction with Iraq. Such attacks may be out of America. Furthermore, the DHS color alert page says that the "... world [not just or necessarily America] has changed since September 11 ...." . In conclusion, based on DHS statements on its web site, the DHS five-color alert system seems to apply to the entire world, not just to the homeland (America). However, DHS has never, as of 20 August 2004, had predictive colors green, blue, or red (the highest risk color). It is difficult to reconcile a conclusion that the color system applies to the entire world with the lack of red, green, or blue predictions. If the system applies to the entire world, red should have been used occasionally. Thus, Web language suggests entire world but restricted colors (especially lack of red) argues against entire world.
    2. During the American coalition's invasion and occupation of Iraq, the DHS colors would often have been orange and even red if the color had been based on the world including Iraq (not America alone). This suggests that DHS colors apply to America alone. Even though DHS considers attacks on "our interests abroad", the attacks must be in America to affect the DHS color, it seems. On 20 August 2004, in light of colors during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the DHS policy seems to be that colors are based on threat of terrorist attacks in America only.
    3. It is possible that:
      1. there is no policy (ask one person what the policy is, get one answer; ask a different person, get a different answer; in other words, no policy),
      2. the policy occasionally changes,
      3. there is a policy other than the two policies considered above (whole world, only America), or
      4. that there is a policy with many exceptions.


    Although the DHS color alert system seems to be the result of huge expense and effort by many government employees trying to work together, DHS conceals that that alert system has an abysmal track record of predictive accuracy, and that DHS's Secretaries have been better qualified to run NASA or NIH than DHS. Secretary Tom Ridge seems to have been appointed Secretary solely for cynically political reasons. DHS secretary Michael Chertoff is not better than Ridge. If you had been asked, months before Chertoff was offered the job of DHS secretary, to make a list of fifteen, outstanding, counterterrorist executives (not counterterrorist litigators or legislators), would you have put Chertoff on the list? First, Bush appointed Ridge, a former county prosecutor who was later a governor. He didn't work out. Then Bush appointed a former federal prosecutor who was later a judge. This is not a job as DHS general counsel or as a judge. DHS secretary is not a job that requires knowing jury instructions or whether two defendants deserve separate trials. This is a job that requires knowing about terrorism (how to recognize terrorists, where terrorists will strike, etc.). Chertoff needs to teach his subordinates how to do those things. Chertoff cannot lead his department to effectiveness because he cannot do its most important work. By the way, right after Hurricane Katrina, many people disparagingly wrote that FEMA's boss Michael Brown had no emergency management experience prior to running FEMA. Chertoff had no emergency management experience prior to running DHS, a job which includes supervising FEMA's boss. Michael Chertoff supervising Michael Brown was the blind leading the blind. In the struggle against terrorism, America's biggest weakness is the quality of its leadership.

    People who do not know how to evaluate predictive systems (for example, a system that predicts weather or who will develop a specific disease) may mistakenly take the DHS color alert system seriously. DHS's color alert system is merely a parody of an advisory or predictive system. The number of colors is capricious, the definitions are uselessly vague, the recommendation-guesses (if followed by local officials) cause waste of huge amounts of money that would otherwise be used to protect people from crime and other bad things. In a real recommendation system, careful records are kept of how useful or wasteful the recommendation system's recommendations are (so that the recommendation-generating system can be compared to other such systems and to random guesses). Without records of how useful or wasteful recommendations are, it is impossible to improve a recommendation system. When a drug is developed, people study to find out whom it helps and harms, and how much. A drug might help women more than it harms them, but harm men more than it helps them, for example. A doctor would then be careful to prescribe the drug for women but not men. Sometimes, after a drug has been prescribed for years, scientists discover that some people (people with a bad liver, for example) should not get that drug because it harms them much. Which hundred cities have been harmed most by spending money responding to DHS communications (gossip, recommendations, predictions, etc.)? In a well-managed organization, managers do cost-benefit analysis because there is not enough money for everything. If a government spends foolishly (for example, following DHS recommendation-guesses), there's less money left over to catch criminals, put out fires, design safer intersections, intelligently fight terrorism, and engage in other activities which make Americans safer.

    DHS sometimes emphasizes that the DHS color alert system provides recommendations (drawing attention away from the predictive aspect of the system). If you know that it's going to rain moderately tomorrow, recommending an umbrella does not take expertise. Even Chertoff could figure that out. What's difficult is knowing whether it's going to rain tomorrow. Chertoff cannot predict rain. If a railroad station's security director knows that a bomb will go off in the station the next day, he knows what to do. He doesn't need DHS recommendations about what to do, he needs to know if a bomb will go off the next day in the station. Chertoff cannot predict rain, drug effects, or earthquakes. Chertoff does not know how to predict. It is an area of knowledge that he does not have. Chertoff cannot lead DHS to create a non-parody recommendation system.

    Suppose that every morning you briefly chat with someone. On mornings of rainless days, he says that there is a high (or elevated, or moderate) risk of rain. On mornings of rainless days, he never says that the risk of rain is between slim and none. Would you eventually guess that he works for DHS?


    Demagogues recommend to ordinary Americans to have duct tape and plastic sheeting at home for protection against terrorists (as Tom Ridge recommended in Cincinnati on 19 February 2003 according to information once at and as DHS continues to recommend). American consumers may be more likely to be killed going shopping for duct tape and plastic than as a result of not having duct tape and plastic at home. Experts in the prophylactic value of duct tape and plastic sheeting (for example, medical school professors) do not buy duct tape and plastic sheeting for their homes for protection against terrorism. Outside of America, governments do not recommend that ordinary people buy duct tape and plastic sheeting for residential protection against terrorism. It is a waste of money for ordinary Americans to have duct tape and plastic sheeting at home for protection against terrorism.

    DHS does not make its duct-tape-and-plastic recommendation to businesses, corporations, and government agencies, as far as I know. Sarin poison was used in a subway system, and outdoors in Japan and Iraq. Have terrorists promised not to use biochemical weapons against hotels, museums, factories, office buildings, shopping malls, barracks, hospitals, schools, subway stations, airport terminals, embassies, and warehouses? Why doesn't DHS recommend to all businesses, corporations, and governments to stock duct tape and plastic sheeting? Why doesn't DHS recommend that duct tape and plastic sheeting be stashed in non-residential sites? For example, imagine an accounting firm's office and a TV repair business. Why doesn't DHS recommend to that accounting firm and that repair business to stash duct tape and plastic sheeting in their premises? Also, should people on welfare get slightly bigger checks to allow them to buy tape and plastic sheets? Is anyone helping America's poor people get enough tape and plastic sheets?


    Biochemical and radiation attacks by terrorists are rare.

    There were a few sarin gas attacks by terrorists:

    1. an attack in a quiet, residential area of the central Japanese city of Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture) in 1994 (which killed seven people),
    2. an attack in Tokyo in 1995 (which killed twelve people on five subway trains).
    Japan's sarin poisonings were done by some members of a small, religious group. (By the way, although the first sarin attacks were in Japan, the Japanese government correctly does not recommend to Japanese people that they stash tape and plastic sheets. As far as I know, no government agencies in Iraq recommend to Iraqis that they waste their money on tape and plastic sheeting.) In November 1995, reporters were shown a radioactive package that earlier had been put in a public park in Moscow seemingly by Russian separatists. No one knows who was exposed to the package's radiation. No deaths or other medical problems were attributed to the package, which allegedly contained cesium. There were anthrax attacks in late 2001 in Boca Raton town of Florida, the District of Columbia, Manahattan borough of New York city, and other sites near America's Atlantic coast. Postal mail sent to work places seems to have been the vector of the anthrax attacks.

    The sarin, radiation, and anthrax attacks (mentioned above) have been carefully studied. None of the victims would have been saved had he had a DHS-recommended, anti-terrorism kit (or duct tape, plastic sheeting, and potassium iodide) in his home. No one killed would have survived, no one injured would have escaped injury. If the threat is biochemical and radiation attack on ordinary Americans in America, DHS-recommended kits (and duct tape, plastic sheeting, and potassium iodide in the home) are a waste of money.

    Smallpox vaccine rarely causes encephalitis. Smallpox vaccine is made with a live virus that is spread by touching the vaccination site before it has healed (which vaccinated people sometimes do, perhaps because the vaccination site hurts) or by touching bandages, clothing or anything else contaminated with the live virus. A small number of people get severe medical problems because of their smallpox vaccination. After 1900, no victim of terrorism would have done better had he had a smallpox vaccination. If someone lives in America, it is extremely unlikely that he will get smallpox. There are only two ways that someone who lives in America will get smallpox before the year 2006: (1) as the result of getting a smallpox vaccination, (2) perhaps as the result of close contact with someone soon after he gets a smallpox vaccination. (The foregoing prediction about 2006 was right.) Even then, the risk of getting smallpox in America is low. It is unwise for Americans to volunteer for smallpox vaccinations because, in America, the risk from smallpox vaccination is greater than the risk the vaccination protects against. By the way, smallpox does not spread quickly through a population. Smallpox spreads slowly.

    Iraq will not attack anywhere in America with biochemical or radiation weapons in 2003 or 2004. (This statement was here before the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. On 10 January 2006, we see that that statement was true.)


    There are police departments with limited budgets that have wasted much money on overtime pay when DHS incorrectly announced that the prediction-recommendation color was orange. Few people or police departments can afford to protect against every conceivable threat. Anti-terrorist advice to ordinary Americans and their police departments is likely to be bad (by wasting money) or even dangerous (by causing deaths) if the advice does not directly result from an accurate prediction of the circumstances of terrorist attack. Sadly, DHS continues to be unable to make accurate, terrorist-related predictions that are useful to ordinary Americans in America. American government has gone from the extreme of no warning (of terrorist attack) to the extreme of much ridiculous advice and occasional lies. DHS's threat-guessing system is wrong so often it's worthless for ordinary Americans in America. By the way, when DHS uses the word assessment (as in a claim to engage in "threat assessment"), DHS merely means guess or hunch. As far as I know, DHS has never said how often its threat assessments are right, or whether the assessments are right more often than they are wrong.

    Imagine that DHS concludes that it is almost certain that terrorists will murder many Americans the next day in an apartment building where they live. The DHS red color is for the highest risk of terrorist attack, and thus might be appropriate (if one chooses colors solely on the basis of their predictive value). However, DHS red includes a recommendation to consider closing public and government buildings, which would result in more people being home, which might result in more deaths (not prevent any deaths). Red as an advisory color would tend to cause deaths in such a situation, not prevent deaths. Therefore, in such a situation, DHS would have to choose between using the predictive color (which is red in this example) or the advisory color (which would not be red, because following the red-related recommendation would increase the number of people in their homes, and thus increase the risk of death). I guess that DHS would announce the predictive color (red) rather than an advisory color, even though the advice related to red would increase the risk of death.

    Imagine that DHS concludes that it is almost certain that terrorists will kill many Americans the next day. DHS has no idea how, where, or when the killings will occur. DHS does not even know in what country the killings will occur. DHS concludes that little or nothing (in addition to measures always in effect) can be done. Blue and green are the colors which advise little or nothing extra to do. Red is the color that means highest risk of terrorist attack. I guess that DHS would announce the predictive color (red) rather than the advisory color. Action costs money (for overtime pay for extra patrolling, for example) which is then not available to provide safety in the future.

    In conclusion, the DHS five-color prediction-recommendation system needlessly endangers people and wastes money. It would be safer and cheaper not to use each color both to predict the amount of risk and to recommend responses to risk.

    Consider a city where police work reduces crime (a city in which, if there were fewer police, there would be more crime). In such a city, crime will result to the extent that police are prevented from working against crime. When a city government uses police to do work in response to DHS gossip or guesses, there are fewer police to work against crime (for example, fewer police to patrol and to investigate crime). More crime is the result. In conclusion, DHS's bad advice causes crime. There should be periodic (perhaps annual) research measuring how much crime (including violent crime) results from police being redeployed from useful work (to work caused by DHS gossip, guesses, and other statements).

    The above discussion of DHS-caused crime does not apply to a city which has more police than it knows what to do with. If a city has more police than it can find useful work for, there may be no harm in assigning those police to DHS-inspired work.

    By the way, DHS seems to open and read Americans' private mail, according to "Homeland Security opening private mail" by Brock N. Meeks, MSNBC website, 6 January 2006.


    Journalists respectfully describe the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) color-coded alert system. Each of the five colors is a prediction, as explained above on this page. How many days in a row will the system have to be wrong before journalists describe the system as worthless or seriously inaccurate? A journalist doesn't have to be a weatherman to know if yesterday's weather forecast for today was wrong. The same journalists who may write that a politician said something inaccurate, or that a government agency's analysis of something was wrong, are quiet about the quality of DHS's color-coded predictions.


    1. Michael Chertoff, 3 September 2005

      On 3 September 2005, which was after Hurricane Katrina had hit America, DHS secretary Chertoff said that a Katrina-type catastrophe [dikes breached during a powerful hurricane] had not been foreseen by government planners, maybe had not been foreseen by anyone else, and was "... breathtaking in its surprise ...", according to an article entitled "Chertoff: Katrina scenario did not exist [subtitle:] However, experts for years had warned of threat to New Orleans", 5 September 2005, CNN website. According to that CNN article, Michael Brown (Chertoff's subordinate and boss of FEMA) said that FEMA had planned for a worse hurricane than Katrina. (The dikes ["levees" in much of the deep South] were built to withstand a level 3 hurricane. Katrina was level 4, which is worse. Brown said that FEMA had planned for level 5.) The truth is that, despite Chertoff's statements on 3 September 2005, many people in and out of government had forseen (and some people had even tried to prepared for or prevent) a Katrina-type catastrophe, according to:

      1. the CNN article cited above.
      2. "Gone with the Water"; Joel K. Bourne, Jr.; October 2004; National Geographic Magazine.
      3. Houston Chronicle, 12/01/01, article formerly at, "KEEPING ITS HEAD ABOVE WATER [subtitle:] New Orleans faces doomsday scenario",, by science writer ERIC BERGER.

    2. James Low, 5 August 2004

      According to news reported on the web: on 6 August 2004, at a Customs and Border Protection Office ceremony in Elizabeth, NJ, former admiral James Low, who is the second-most powerful person in DHS, said that a terrorist had taken photographs inside and out of the Prudential Financial headquarters building in Newark NJ in January 2004. Loy explicitly, flagrantly lied on a life-and-death subject. Furthermore, Loy implied that al Qaida took the alleged photos. Because Loy does not expertly understand al Qaida, he does not understand the obviousness of his lie. His lie shows his ignorance, not merely his lack of integrity when speaking on a life-and-death matter.

    3. DHS, July 2003

      In July 2003, the U.S. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) wrongly named Australia as a possible target for suicide airliner assaults by the al Qaeda network. Australian Attorney-General Daryl Williams correctly said that the new U.S. warning that Australia could be a target was "not an accurate reflection of the intelligence." The head of Australia's main spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), said that including Australia in the Department of Homeland Security list was a "bureaucratic mistake" because of someone misreading intelligence. Williams said U.S. authorities had promised Australia a correction. I guess that America corrected the untrue statement.
      The above account is based on, and includes much material from, a now-defunct web page with URL
      containing an article entitled "Australia demands U.S. retracts airline attack threat", by Belinda Goldsmith of MSNBC News.

    4. Tom Ridge, February 2003

      "Terrorists force us to make a choice. We can be afraid, or we can be ready, " DHS's Tom Ridge said in February 2003 in a speech in Cincinnati, America. The truth is that we simultaneously can be afraid and ready. Not only is fear compatible with readiness, fear can motivate people to get ready. Ridge did not tell the truth. It is not true that terrorists force us to choose between fear and readiness. Tom Ridge chose between silence and making a ridiculous accusation against terrorists. In the same Cincinnati speech, Ridge said that terrorists "seek to turn our neighborhoods into battlefields." A battlefield is a place where there is a battle. In America, terrorists (for example, al Qaida) avoid battle. They have non-battle strategies and they have tactics other than battle. The truth is that terrorists (for example, al Qaida) seek to avoid battle in our neighborhoods or anywhere else in America. Some people may have been gullible enough to believe Ridge, and those people may have been needlessly frightened by his wrong accusations that terrorists want to turn Americans' neighborhoods into battlefields. For proof that Secretary Tom Ridge made the statements about the choice that terrorists allegedly force us to make, and about terrorists' allegedly seeking to turn our neighborhoods into battlefields, see (once at "Ridge unveils anti-terrorism tips", MSNBC, 19 February 2003. DHS's Secretary should be an expert source of information who dispels ridiculous beliefs, not a demagogue who foments ridiculous fears.

  3. DHS (Department of Homeland Security)
  4. ARNG (Army National Guard)



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