Lawmaker asks Homeland Security chief to explain attack warning

Chairman of House panel says Michael Chertoff should pick his words more carefully.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., rapped Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Wednesday for saying he has a "gut feeling" that the nation faces an increased risk of terrorist attack this summer.

Chertoff made his comments to the Chicago Tribune's editorial board Tuesday, even while saying no evidence points toward an imminent threat.

"Words have power, Mr. Secretary," Thompson wrote in a letter to Chertoff Wednesday. "You must choose them wisely -- especially when they relate to the lives and security of the American public."

Thompson said "tens of billions of taxpayer dollars" have been spent on Homeland Security infrastructure, resources and communications systems to identify risks and convey them to state and local officials.

"What color code in the Homeland Security Advisory System is associated with a 'gut feeling?'" the letter asked. "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?' "

Alluding to the much-ridiculed advice once given by the nation's former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, Thompson wrote: "Are the American people supposed to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting because of your 'gut feeling?' "

Chertoff told the Tribune there is no reason to raise the nation's color-coded threat advisory system. Thompson urged Chertoff to share necessary information with state and local officials and to change the nation's threat level if that is necessary.

"Otherwise, we run the risk of communities taking it upon themselves to mobilize for every possible threat," Thompson wrote. "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."