Why July 4 terror precautions were necessary

Updated 4:37 PM EDT, Thu July 9, 2015

Story highlights

The government amped up security for July 4 in light of growing terrorism threats

Juliette Kayyem: Spike in lone wolf attacks and holiday symbolism validated security hype

Editor’s Note: Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst, is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and founder of Kayyem Solutions, a security consulting firm. She is also the host of the Security Mom podcast. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) —  

The increased threat warnings that led up to the recent July 4 celebrations were anything but subtle. Government officials and security analysts warned Americans that the large gatherings for America’s Independence Day might provide fertile ground for ISIS attackers or their affiliates to attack. Police officers and first responders increased their efforts and the American public was told once again that if they see something, say something.

The lack of any violence related to terrorism – as compared to the gun violence that swept cities such as Chicago – might be seen as an administration invoking fear or simply covering their backsides. Certainly, some suspected that leading up to the weekend.

Juliette Kayyem
Juliette Kayyem

And it wasn’t too long ago when the much-maligned terror “color code” system (remember those red and orange alerts?) seemed to make a joke of how the government communicated with the public about threats.

The color-code system may be long gone – the Obama administration disbanded it – but the challenge of communicating threats and risks to the public remains. The truth is: There is no good alert system out there. And the reason isn’t because the government can’t get its act together.

The reason is because intelligence can almost never provide enough information to thoughtfully and specifically prepare the public for a threat. And while a tremendous amount of progress has been made so government agencies are better at sharing information with each other and state and local officials, the notion that terrorist attacks can be stopped if we simply “connected the dots” better is often wishful thinking.