Last week, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced a new color-coded system for terrorism alerts. We asked Deputy Under Assistant Acting Media Spokesperson Marty "Mort" Ackerman for details. Q: No offense, but government people seem like a bunch of gray old bureaucrats. How did you come up with such a colorful idea?

A: We like to call this our "internal security rainbow." Both grownups and kids can understand it. Plus, it livens up the whole anti-terrorism effort. And, of course, it's spring.

Q: Would you mind going over the various colors?

A: Can do. The first level is green, and green is for go. Go mow the lawn, go spend money, go have a limeade. Green is all good. Now, blue is a little more dicey. It's worse than green, but not as bad as yellow. We like to think of it this way: "Green is for go, we blew up our foe. If Bin Laden's loose, then we've got the blues."

Q: But right now, we're still on yellow alert?

A: Correct. Yellow is more like "Caution. The light's about to turn red. Speed up, but don't hit any pedestrians."

Q: And red is the worst alert color there is?

A: Exactly. We have a little saying at the agency: "If we go to code red, there's a gun to our head. So get out the lead 'til Saddam Hussein's dead."

Q: And orange is ... .

A: Right up there between red and yellow.

Q: Okay. So, how will you let everyone know whatever color we're on at the moment?

A: We plan to decorate downtown office buildings - the same way they do for all the big holidays.

Q: But couldn't that get confusing? I mean, what if we're at code orange, but it's also St. Patrick's Day? And around Christmas time, you'd have red and green going on.

A: Well, there's certainly plenty of spectrum left; that's the beauty of this thing. You've got cornflower, burnt umber, sienna, goldenrod. Off the record, we're working with the Crayola people right now.

Q: But isn't this whole color-coding idea a little simplistic? I mean, this week it came out that a lot of our own airport-security screeners have criminal records.

A: Not a problem. Let's say all the screeners at O'Hare are convicted felons. That's probably an orange-yellow. But if it's just some head case with a few misdemeanors, then you're probably talking yellow-orange.

Q: So what if some guy tries to get on an airplane with explosives in his shoe on the very same day there's a false anthrax scare and the INS has certified two dead terrorists with visas?

A: I'd have to check. But my guess is, we'd go with pastels.

Q: And isn't this whole anti-terrorist campaign supposed to be secret? What if we don't want to tell the bad guys what level of alert we're on?

A: Easy as pie. Everyone watches these press conferences on C-SPAN, right? So let's say the attorney general just happens to show up one day wearing a red tie. A red tie, get it? A word to the wise ... if you know what I mean.

Q: What if he shows up wearing a striped tie, or one that's paisley?

A: In that case, I'd look for a pocket handkerchief.

Q: But wouldn't that still tip off the enemy?

A: Not necessarily. I think the North Koreans still broadcast in black and white.

Copyright 2002 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio 720. E-mail and listen at (

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