Federal officials are considering adoption of a multiple-stage alert system that would rank announced threats to public safety based on the credibility of the information, California Gov. Gray Davis said Thursday.
Since Sept. 11, federal officials have asked three times for Americans and law enforcement to be on heightened alert for possible acts of terrorism. But the credibility and specificity of the threats has not always been clear, leaving some confusion about the nature of the threat.
In November, Davis provoked controversy when he warned of a "credible" terrorist threat against major bridges in California, including the Golden Gate Bridge. Some federal officials said the threats were uncorroborated and did not merit a public announcement.
Davis said he had been prepared to institute a four-stage alert system in California soon. But on Thursday, after meeting with Thomas J. Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, Davis said he would wait at least until Jan. 15 at Ridge's request.
Davis said that Ridge would like to propose a similar alert system to be used nationwide.
"We don't have any pride of authorship," Davis said. "The whole point is to have a system that allows everyone to be on the same page."
He said a police chiefs' association had also presented an idea for a tiered-alert system to Ridge.
Under California's proposed system, Davis said, Stage 1 would be the highest level of alert and would refer to threats that are "credible, confirmed and specific" as to the time and target of a possible attack.
A Stage 4 warning, the lowest level, might come from sources who are not confirmed or credible, "but still you have such a large quantity of people saying the same thing that it warrants an alert."
He said the warning about West Coast bridges would have merited a Stage 2 or 3 alert. The FBI deemed the informant credible at the time the information was received, Davis said, and the targets were "relatively specific." But the threat had not been confirmed by multiple sources.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Ridge, confirmed that homeland security officials hope to adopt such a system "in the near term." He said Ridge envisioned a system in which different stages of alert would correspond to specific actions by state and local law enforcement agencies to address the threat.
In his meeting with Ridge, Davis also proposed allowing California Highway Patrol officers, after eight or 10 hours of training, to act as air marshals when they fly commercially in the course of their duties. CHP officers take about 8,000 flights a year, Davis said.
He also proposed using National Guard troops to scrutinize checked baggage for bombs or other weapons. Davis said about 10% of the more than 800 National Guard troops now stationed at California airports should be given that task.
Johndroe said that Ridge was interested in the idea of using highway patrols as air marshals, but that he did not want to redeploy National Guard troops. Instead, Ridge wants to give the Transportation Department a chance to use the new authority it was granted under an air security bill recently signed into law.