Ridge said at a press conference, announcing the change in level on the nation’s five tier color-coded scale to yellow or elevated from orange or high, ”Today, based on a careful review of the available intelligence, we have lowered the threat level to yellow.”
“Now we are still concerned about continued threats, but the threat conditions that we’ve been following have diminished,” said Ridge. “With the passing of the holidays and many large gatherings that certainly occur during this time, we have made the decision to come down to yellow.”
The alert level was raised to orange, the second-highest on the nation’s alert scale, on Dec. 21. Several international flights were canceled and airspace restrictions were boosted in the skies over cities that host large New Year’s Eve celebrations such as Las Vegas and New York City.
“I know that we are all thankful that nothing happened. The holidays have passed,” the secretary added.
But Ridge said some parts of the country and areas of the private sector, which he did not identify, will remain on a heightened state of alert.
“Although we’ve returned to yellow, we have not let our guard down,” he said. “Yellow still means that we are an elevated risk of attack and we will maintain particular vigilance around some critical resources and locales.”
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press earlier that airports and airlines will keep their high alert status.
U.S. authorities have shared intelligence regarding specific threats to airlines, prompting carriers in Britain, France and Mexico to cancel flights around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The United States also ordered foreign airlines to put armed marshals on certain international flights and dispatched fighter jets to escort some incoming planes.
Foreign airlines that do not provide marshals when requested to do so may be refused access to American airspace — a move that has met with mixed reaction in the international community.
“[T]here’s a growing awareness in the international aviation community that we need to establish standards by which we can deal with this kind of threat information, and we will,” Ridge told reporters.
December’s move to an orange alert marked the fifth time the national alert level has been raised since the system was announced in March 2002. It has never dropped below the yellow or elevated risk of a terror attack.