Threat Advisory security alert nonsense

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The establishment of a "Threat Advisory" code by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to alert the American public on the status of terrorist threats was a well-intentioned one. However, in December 2003, Threat Advisory security alert nonsense began to not only diminish the serious intent of the Threat Advisory code, but to also border on harrassment and just plain silliness.

Two separate events were reported by the media on December 30, 2003. The first was an actual FBI alert reported by the Associated Press.[1] The almost nonsensical headline FBI Issues an Almanac Alert appeared in New York Newsday, for example, followed by the announcement that, on Christmas Eve, the FBI had sent a bulletin "to about 18,000 police organizations" to alert them that "terrorists may use almanacs 'to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.'" The bulletin "urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways."

As might be expected, the news story elicited incredulous reactions from many bloggers. One BuzzFlash reader promptly responded with a picture of The Osama's Farmer's Almanac 2004[2] "found ... at an online bookstore."

On January 1, 2004, Kevin Seabrooke, the senior editor for the "annually published The World Almanac and Book of Facts admitted [that] he felt 'a little bemused' by this week's news of the FBI's terrorist warning to 18,000 law enforcement organizations to be watchful of people in possession of, well, almanacs."[3]

"Seabrooke said he's telling people everything in the almanac is already public information readily available on the Internet and at their local libraries. 'In fact,' he added, masking a hint of irony, 'the government is our biggest single supplier of information.'"

"Furthermore, the FBI's alert did not specifically point to The World Almanac ... but almanacs, in general. And besides, he said, if a terrorist wanted to keep such critical information close at hand, 'they could just write things down on a piece of paper and not carry around a 1,008-page book.'"

Less amusing, though, at least to community members, is the December 30, 2003, New Jersey Star-Ledger article which announced that the "Short Hills shopping center [was] now off limits for pre-opening strolls." Starting that day, the mall "suspended the pre-opening walks by VIP, or Very Important Pacers, amid heightened security over the Department of Homeland Security's orange alert."

One mall walker, Frank J. Corcoran, responded: "'We have people in the group who are 88. As far as security, a lot of us are veterans. We do not carry packages or anything like that,' said Corcoran, a World War II veteran who lives in nearby Springfield and took to walking after four bypass operations. ... 'Most of the people walk 45 minutes to an hour. They have a cup of coffee with somebody, then half the day is gone.' The rest of the day is often booked, he said. 'At our age, you have a lot of doctor appointments.'"

The mall claimed responsibility for the decision to suspend the mall walkers in response to the heightened code orange alert. However, Corcoran said that "he and many of his 15 walking companions yesterday stuffed the mall's suggestion box with their objections. And, he noted that he alone spent about $400 at the mall at Christmastime. ... 'I don't think it's a good economic move for them,' he said."

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  1. "FBI Issues an Almanac Alert," Associated Press (ABC News (Australia)), December 30, 2003.
  2. Joey Martin, "The Osama Farmer's Almanac," BuzzFlash, December 30, 2003.
  3. Gary Dorsey, "Almanac Carries Lot of Weight in Warning. FBI's Recent Alert Has Editor Bemused," Baltimore Sun (Common Dreams), January 1, 2004.

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