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After San Bernardino Massacre, Changes Coming To Terror Alert System

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Refinements are coming to the country's terror alert system.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh  Johnson says it will reflect "intermediate" threats -- and not just a warning of something "major and credible."

"I believe that we need to do a better job of informing the public at large of what we're seeing, removing some of the mystery about the global terrorist threat, what we're doing about it, and what we're asking the public to do."

If the goal is not to confuse Americans, one former DHS official says the government has a lot of work to do.

From the five-level color-coded system after 9/11, Homeland Security moved to the current two-tier National Terrorism Advisory System a few years ago, but has never used it.

"It really had a rather high bar. It really called for a very specific and credible threat that had to be established before something rose to the level of going to the NTAS. Now, the new system apparently is going to be a bit more sensitive."

But Jack Tomarchio, who runs the national security consulting firm Agoge Group in Wayne, says he's concerned that changes could further muddle things.

"Certainly no information is not a good thing, but information that's sketchy, not based on credible facts or at least more than a mere suspicion -- those kind of alerts can also be problematic because it can get the citizenry spun up, it can get people worried, and it can put out the wrong information. The idea that we're under an elevated threat level -- what does that mean to the average citizen? Where's the geographical area that pertains to?"

For such a system to work, Tomarchio cautions, the government needs to be clear with us about the criteria it uses for issuing an alert.

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