Remember when every day Americans were told the color of their national security risk? Today, we are at yellow alert, for example, which means an Elevated Risk of a terrorist incident. There were other colors, ranging from Green all the way up to red. In fact, there were five colors (sometimes six). You don’t hear about those anymore.
That’s because they were phased out in 2011. And do you know why? The public figured out they were all window-dressing bullshit.*
No, really. Security experts immediately scoffed at the complex system, saying that too many colors means too much confusion about what to do. Heck, the military never uses more than three (sometimes four). And the general public caught on that we always seemed to be at yellow—which, when you think about it—is a good place to be with terrorism: always on guard against it.
You didn’t hear about this, because the whole system cost us a ton of money and was, like most of Homeland Security’s best hits, a total joke from the start. No, we’re not blaming Obama on this one: this started under the Bush administration and it was the Czar’s least-favorite Director of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who finally buried it quietly at sea.
One of the big complaints about the system was that no explanation was ever given to what the colors really meant. What were you, dear reader, supposed to do if things went from yellow to orange? Or blue to yellow? The DHS replied that this was more meant for law enforcement, but the reality was that law enforcement didn’t know what to do, either.
Okay, DHS clarified, it was really up to each agency to figure that out for their specific area. For example, a community with a bridge might want to protect that bridge better, whereas a community without a bridge could use its limited resources elsewhere.
Fine, and it makes sense that two different communities might need to respond differently based on their unique needs, agreed law enforcement. But what do the color codes mean for us? Do we guard that bridge in orange or yellow, both, or neither? And how do we know what our unique needs are?
Look, the DHS answered with increasing annoyance, you need to figure that out for yourselves. Maybe Westmoreland Heights needs to guard their bridge in Yellow, whereas East Elm Oak Hills needs to do it in Orange. You have to figure out what works for you.
In other words, concluded law enforcement, this color coding system doesn’t mean a freaking thing. Got it. We should just figure it all out for ourselves. Well, thanks a lot, Homeland Security! Enjoy that $122 million headquarters building you just built in our hometown. Let’s hope you built it next to the bridge.
Now, admittedly, a lot of the criticism was unreasonable. For example, people wanted to know why the color code might go from yellow to orange. Was there a threat against an airline? (We have family flying in! Are they in danger?) Was there a threat against a landmark? (The kids have a field trip to the museum! Are they at risk?) Was there a threat of widespread attack? (Danny’s in the National Guard! Does he need to mobilize?)
Well, the DHS answered, we can’t exactly reveal that information because it could tip off the terrorists that we’ve intercepted their communications a specific way. And if they find out we’ve figured out how they send their messages, they’ll change them and then we have to go back to square one.
Doesn’t changing the threat level ten minutes after they emailed each other kind of tip them off? Good point, the DHS realized, and generally left the alert status on yellow. If the terrorists don’t see the color change, they’ll have no idea we’re on to them!
The public scratched their collective heads and realized, in other words, this color coding system doesn’t mean a freaking thing. Got it. We should just figure it all out for ourselves. Well, thanks a lot, Homeland Security! We’re voting for Obama.
And so, in order to prevent people from voting for Mitt Romney in three more years, Napolitano threw the whole thing in the trash. It’s true: some homeless guy dragged the color-coded alert system out of the alley and took it, unsuccessfully, to a recycling center. It wound up in a curb, where skateboards use it for jumps and, sometimes, folk art.
The Czar believes that there are a lot of websites and flat panel displays that still have an RSS feed to this system, continuously notifying passersby that we are on Code Yellow alert, at least as of January 27, 2011.
Realizing the stupidity of the federal plan, which is a rare enough thing in politics, the DHS proposed a simple two-tier system: Elevated and Imminent. In short, “Be on guard for attack” and “You are currently under attack.” That’s actually a good system, because let’s face it, we’re never going to be at a low risk of attack anymore. We never were there, in fact—we were just ignorant of the risk.
So that’s another rare thing, especially under this administration: not only was the original plan utterly stupid, the new plan acknowledges we will forever be in danger.
*Metaphors, when mixed by experts, are impressive. The Czar is such an expert.
** Don’t bother searching above for the footnote referencing this. There isn’t one; the Czar just needed more stuff down here. ‘Puter once put seventeen asterisks in a row into one of his posts, some of which were weird statements like « Jean a une longue moustache. Jean a une longue moustache. » He messes with people all day long.