The United States government today raised the terrorism alert level from the "elevated" (yellow) to "high risk" (orange) category. The increased alert is a response to heightened concerns, a decision Attorney General John Ashcroft said today in a press conference, is based on "specific intelligence...corroborated by multiple intelligence services." According to news reports, that intelligence is focusing on "soft" targets -- meaning not highly secured -- like apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Officials emphasize there's no reason for Americans to disrupt travel activities but do urge extra awareness.
Timing-wise, the threats are pegged to both the uneasy situation with Iraq and the end of Hajj, a Muslim religious period that ends in mid-February.
While a spokeswoman from the International Council of Cruise Lines, an organization that represents U.S. lines in the safety and security arena, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, cruise ships were not specifically mentioned as targets. Still, cruise-bound travelers in the next month may encounter some extra security scrutiny. Prepare for:
An increase in random exams during the airport screening process
An enhanced level of questioning by U.S. customs officials of travelers returning to the U.S.
More intense scrutiny of travel documents
Increased presence of federal air marshals on airplane flights
Look for raised security levels in cruise ship ports
This is the first time since last September that the government has raised the terrorism alert to the high category -- but that's not the highest category that exists. That would be the one-higher category called "severe."