Blog Posts

Chairman Thompson Responds to Chertoff's "Gut Feeling"

July 11, 2007

Yesterday Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was reported to have made the following remarks:

Homeland Security chief warns of ‘increased risk'
E.A. Torriero, Chicago Tribune – July 11, 2007

Chertoff bases ‘gut feeling’ on history, Al Qaeda statements

Fearing complacency among the American people over possible terror threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Chicago Tuesday that the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer.

“I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk,” Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board in an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America’s terror threat level.

“Summertime seems to be appealing to them,” he said of al-Qaeda. “We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities.”

Still, Chertoff said there are not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the current threat levels nationwide. And he indicated that his remarks were based on “a gut feeling” formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent al-Qaeda statements, and intelligence he did not disclose.

Today, Committee on Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson sent the following letter to Chertoff demanding an explanation of the Secretary's remarks:

July 11, 2007

Dear Secretary Chertoff:

Over the past five years, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been dedicated to standing up and building capacity at the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security is charged with deterring, preventing and responding to the threat of terrorism. To that end, systems have been erected to identify risks and communicate them to the American public. With all the resources you have at your disposal and all the progress that you assure us that you are making, I cannot understand why you are quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying you have a “gut feeling” that we are entering a period of heightened risk this summer.

Words have power, Mr. Secretary. You must choose them wisely–especially when they relate to the lives and security of the American public. What color code in the Homeland Security Advisory System is associated with a “gut feeling?” What sectors should be on alert as a result of your “gut feeling?” What cities should be asking their law enforcement to work double shifts because of your “gut feeling?” Are the American people supposed to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting because of your “gut feeling?”

The Committee on Homeland Security has repeatedly emphasized the importance of getting specific, actionable information to our first preventers in law enforcement and other emergency response providers. I urge you to follow up on your “gut feeling” and share whatever information our nation's first preventers need to be on alert and prepared. Otherwise, we run the risk of communities taking it upon themselves to mobilize for every possible threat. This not only would result in communities depleting their scarce homeland security resources but runs contrary to your efforts to move toward a risk-based approach to homeland security.

This fall, we will be marking the sixth anniversary of the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil. With likely action on legislation to implement the unfinished business of the 9/11 Commission, Congress is poised to give you more and better opportunities to work with law enforcement in a constructive manner.

Mr. Secretary, I urge you to clarify your comments by providing concrete direction to the State, local and tribal stakeholders and if necessary make the required changes to the Nation's threat level to ensure that the American public can take the necessary steps to protect their families, businesses and communities.

I would be happy to convene a classified briefing of our Members to discuss the threat to our nation if you believe that such a briefing is warranted.

Sincerely,

Bennie G. Thompson

Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security