There's another interesting conversation going on over at Dean's place in regard to the Homeland Security alert levels. Dean likes 'em. Many don't.
Something that was briefly addressed and dropped again was the question of who, exactly, we are informing with these alerts. Government agencies, check. The American public, check. The enemy, check.
Yeah, the enemy.
Think about this for a moment...the vagueness of the alert serves a purpose there, too. It says: We know you're up to something. Now you know that we know.
But they don't know how much we know. It says such without giving away anything specific about what information has reached us. The splodeydopes, or whatever variety of terrorist we're anticipating trouble with, can still change their plans--but now they face a heightened level of security throughout the nation and a wary populace.
This makes very good sense. It makes it harder for an attack to succeed, and ideally it discourages the shitheads from attempting an attack at all.
In the same vein, increasing and decreasing the alert level based on the information that we have also makes good sense. It keeps us from suffering impairment from long periods at a higher alert level, thus helping make the increased vigilance due an increased alert meaningful. It keeps the public from exhaustion and the laxity that can come with a constant state of high alert, when we are prone to quit believing that there's any meaning to it. It gives our emergency personnel much-needed breaks at a lower level when the higher one isn't truly necessary. And it communicates to the enemy that we know enough about them to judge when they are a particular threat and react accordingly.
Intelligence is never 100%. I think, though, that our government is handling the alert levels with skill, foresight, and an eye to communicating what we want to communicate to the enemy. That message to the bad guys is a vital part of the system, and shouldn't be discounted in the consideration of the usefulness of the alerts.
Meanwhile, Rosemary thinks one of the commenters has a pretty good idea.
UPDATE 2145: Andrew has an even more vicious idea. That one would bring the war to an end without a bomb even being dropped, methinks. Heh.