Tom and the Terror Alert Code: The Test of Our Rainbow

When the terror alert system changes from yellow to orange, what do you do differently?

If you’re the average citizen, absolutely nothing changes… except maybe how you vote.

Prior to 2004 election, the terror alert code did just that. Yellow, or “Elevated” for “significant risk of terrorist attack” was upped to Orange — “High” — for “high risk of terrorist attack.”

Blue — not we’ve ever seen it — means “Guarded” or “general” risk.

We’ve gone red — “Severe” — exactly once… and then only for flights originating from England.

(That was back in August 2006. On one of those Red days, five or so Agora writers and I were just getting back from one of Bill Bonner’s famous country chateau writing retreats. I remember a 70-year-old woman getting her miniature set of gift jam jars, still in the wrapper, confiscated just before we got on board. I sacrificed a gloss lipstick in the name of national security.)

Former Whiskey bartender Greg Grillot was on that same flight. I didn’t sit next to him, but I bet he told his seatmate: “What kind of adult needs a $*&#ing color-coded fear rainbow to tell him how much to sh$*&# himself every day?”

Now that would have been a truly explosive statement for a mid-life memoir. A true turning point. Instead, our first director of the Department of Homeland Security offers us The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … and How We Can Be Safe Again.

Tom Ridge who peddled us duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of chemical attack is now reveling in the attentions of Sean Hannity. Perhaps he missed the Sunday morning TV circuit.

Luckily, he’s not living by his pen. He’s on several company boards, collecting dough from Home Depot and Hershey, and gets extra cash consulting on homeland security.

Here at the office, we’ve been following the foibles of mainstream journalists and some of our blogging brethren. We’ll let them collect the egg on their face, thank you… We know a thing or two about book promotion, and we suspected that Tom’s “terror alert” change of tune — and the politicizing of the terror alert prior to the 2004 election leading directly to his Nov. 30, 2004 resignation — was 100% pure publicity stunt.

Bottom line is this: Either Tom Ridge is lying or he’s not.

Do we give a fig? More important to Tom, do we give a fig enough to fork over $25.99 to feel pity that he had a slight twinge of consciousness during his ground-breaking tenure in one of the most invasive, expensive government operations of all time?

If he has changed his tune from the old days, it may only be a self-preserving attempt to purge himself of villainy for the sake of his offspring. Or for fear of seeing his code-rainbow days printed up in some future leftist social studies textbook pinning him for the primary devil — instead of the underling he is.

Tastefully, this tell-all book hits stores Sept. 1 — not Sept. 11. No interviews until the debut, so we didn’t bother to ring him up for a grilling.

But here’s a more important date: Sept. 14.

That’s the day that current Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano could scrap the whole darn rainbow. She’s heading up the Homeland Security Advisory System Task Force on their 60-day review of the System’s effectiveness.

The Christian Science Monitor blithely states: “While Mr. Ridge didn’t say the system was broken, his revelation suggests the system is open to abuse.”

Geee, ya think? Using the threat of terror for political gain seems like a familiar tactic — OF TERRORISTS.

But here’s the thing, if you’re the main beneficiary of a newly created government post, wouldn’t you always support the idea that you (and your potential abuses) are entirely necessary. Sure there’s a little twinge of consciousness that tells you to point the finger at an Ashcroft or a Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. But you never bite the hand that feeds you until your done digesting. Forget politics. That’s people, pure and simple.

Every time you and I see a terror alert level raised, we’re supposed to feel safer. We’re supposed to be happy citizens encouraged by what goes down on Nebraska Ave. We’re supposed to be grateful for 238 remote video surveillances happening right now. We’re supposed to forget the $2 billion the Government Accountability Office says was flushed down the toilet buying dog booties, beer-brewing kits, iPods and boats. What in the name of National Security!

Most of us will never be invited to stroll down the inner bowels of Intelligence Way and we have no business on Cryptologic Court, but we are invited to take a stand.

Pen some thoughts here, if you dare: And the Advisory System Task Force will “review” them.

Samantha Buker

September 2, 2009

P.S.: Right now, as you sit in front of your computer, you’re facing another “yellow” alert day. But, if you’re sitting in the airport, logging in to get that one shot of Whiskey before you take flight, be warned, threat level is “Orange” for any domestic or international flight.