Federal authorities lowered the terror alert status for areas around financial institutions in New York, Washington and northern New Jersey, saying Wednesday that additional security precautions had reduced the threat.
The lowering from orange to yellow, the midpoint on the government’s five-level terror warning system, comes three months after the alert was raised because of concerns the institutions and the areas around them could be al-Qaida targets. Yellow is “elevated,” while orange is considered a “high” threat of attack.
In a conference call with reporters, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy said improvements in security and emergency preparations taken since the threat was raised Aug. 1 allowed the government to make the change.
However, he warned that the threat of an attack remains.
“We are as concerned today as we were a month ago,” Loy said. “My sense is this particular enemy will pick their time and pick their place.”
Homeland Security set the threat level at orange for areas surrounding and including the Citigroup Center building and the New York Stock Exchange in New York, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington, and Prudential Financial Inc.’s headquarters in Newark, N.J.
The rest of the nation remained at yellow.
The change came after officials said they had intelligence indicating al-Qaida had conducted surveillance of the buildings. However, counterterror officials later acknowledged that much of the intelligence was at least several years old. They defended their decision to raise the alert because of al-Qaida’s record of extensive planning and plotting.
Loy said the decision to lower the alert was made because government officials and the owners and operators of affected buildings worked for the past three months to boost security and preparedness. That included drills to test cyber-security backup systems and efforts to secure parking or other features of the buildings that the al-Qaida surveillance had noted.
When the nation is at heightened alert, state and local security officials take added precautions such as adding patrols at ports and increasing undercover officers monitoring potentially attractive targets. The announcement signals to local authorities that they can scale back some of the extra security personnel assigned to specific sites mentioned in the warning.
New York officials have chosen to keep the city at orange since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even though the rest of the country has been at yellow most of the time.
New York City Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said Wednesday’s announcement would not change the city’s status.
“We remain on orange alert as we have since 9/11,” he said.