U.S. Won't Raise Terror Threat Level Even Though U.K.'s Is 'Severe'

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the move Friday. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the move Friday. Frederic Legrand/Shutterstock.com file photo

The U.S. is not following the United Kingdom in raising its terror threat level in response the Islamic State and the defection of citizens from both countries to fight with the terror group, Obama administration officials said Friday.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier in the day that Britain's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre had raised the country's threat level to "severe" – the first time it has been that high in three years.

A severe threat level in the U.K. means a terrorist attack is considered "highly likely."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that senior Obama administration had been in touch with their British counterparts but that the U.S. was not "at this point" altering its threat level.

"We don’t at this point see a reason to change the threat level in this country," Earnest said.

The Department of Homeland Security makes those decisions, and Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Friday that while officials are "deeply concerned" about the threat posed by ISIL, they are "unaware of any specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland."

Plainly, however, violent extremists who support ISIL have demonstrated the intent and capability to target American citizens overseas, and ISIL constitutes an active and serious threat within the region.    

Additionally, in response to recent threats generally from overseas, the Department of Homeland Security over the past several weeks has taken a number of steps to enhance aviation security at overseas airports with direct flights to the United States, and the United Kingdom and other nations have followed with similar enhancements. This government, in close collaboration with our international partners, has also taken a series of steps to track foreign fighters who travel in and out of Syria, and we are contemplating additional security measures concerning foreign fighters. Some of the security measures will be visible to the public and some understandably will be unseen.   

At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security is mindful of the potential for homegrown violent extremism inspired by radical ideology overseas, and, both through law enforcement and community outreach, we are taking steps to counter that potential threat."

The announcement from the U.K. follows the videotaped beheading of American photojournalist James Foley by a masked ISIL terrorist with a distinct British accent. Cameron said at least 500 British nationals had joined ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

In explaining the U.S.'s decision not to change its own threat level, Earnest noted that the number of American citizens known to be fighting with ISIL is "somewhat lower" than for the U.K.

One who won't be joining ISIL anytime soon is Nidal Hassan, the killer in the Ft. Hood massacre who reportedly wrote a letter to ISIL leaders from prison in which he asked to become "a citizen" of the group's planned Islamic caliphate. Two Americans have now been confirmed to have been killed overseas after joining up to fight with ISIL.

The concern over terrorists with Western passports launching an attack on the homeland comes as Republicans have called on Obama to step up security on the Southern border in response to an influx of migrant children seeking to enter the U.S.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.