What Is Threatcon Delta?

The Pentagon declared “Threatcon Delta” Tuesday for U.S. forces around the world. What does that mean?

“Threatcon” is short for “terrorist threat condition.” The Threatcon system outlines the security measures to be taken by U.S. military facilities and personnel when threatened by a terrorist attack. Although the entire military is currently under the same Threatcon level, that isn’t always the case. Different locations can have different Threatcon levels. [Correction, 9/13/2001: Recently, the Defense Department changed the official term from “threat condition” to “force protection condition.”]

There are five terrorist threat conditions:

Threatcon Normal warrants only a routine security posture.

Threatcon Alpha means the threat of terrorist attack is low. There are nonspecific threats of terrorist activity of unpredictable nature and extent. Personnel should be suspicious and inquisitive about strangers, particularly those carrying suitcases or containers, and they should be alert for unidentified vehicles and abandoned parcels or suitcases. Buildings, rooms, and storage areas not in regular use should be secured. Spot checks on vehicles entering the area are increased, and access points for vehicles and personnel are limited. Also, measures from higher threat conditions may be implemented. Threatcon Alpha may be maintained indefinitely.

Threatcon Bravo means there is a medium threat of terrorist attack, though no particular threat has been identified. In addition to the measures taken under Threatcon Alpha, these steps should be taken, among others: Personnel who implement anti-terrorist contingency plans will be on call. Cars and other objects are kept at least 25 meters from buildings. The interior and exterior of buildings are frequently inspected for suspicious packages. All mail is thoroughly examined for letter bombs or parcel bombs. Visitors are physically inspected, and so are a percentage of their suitcases and other parcels. Random patrols check vehicles, people, and buildings.

Threatcon Charlie means that a terrorist incident has occurred or that intelligence indicates that a terrorist action is imminent. These additional measures are taken, among others: All personnel responsible for implementing anti-terrorist plans are on duty. Access points are limited to the absolute minimum. All vehicles are searched at entry. Guards are issued weapons, and patrolling is increased. Barriers and obstacles are erected to control traffic flow, and vehicles are parked at a centralized location away from sensitive buildings.

Threatcon Delta means a terrorist attack has occurred in the immediate area or that intelligence indicates that an attack against a specific location is likely. Normally, Threatcon Delta is declared as a localized warning (though not in this case). Among the additional measures taken: More guards are placed on duty, all vehicles on the military installation are identified, and all personnel must be positively identified. All suitcases, briefcases, and packages brought into the installation are searched. Local authorities are consulted about closing roads and facilities that might make sites more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Bonus Explainer: How does the Threatcon system differ from the Defcon system?

“Defcon” stands for the whole military’s “defense readiness condition.” Defcon 5 means “normal readiness,” and Defcon 1 means “maximum readiness.” The Washington Post reported that President Bush authorized the military to declare Defcon 3, which means “an increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness.”

Explainer reruns: Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams declared the District of Columbia is in a “state of emergency.” What does that mean? Click here to find out.

Osama Bin Laden is on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. Click here to learn about the FBI’s Top 10 list, or click here for the current list.

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