LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

NJOHSP: Homegrown violent extremists are state’s top terror threat

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

From harassment of local officials to serious threats against a U.S. senator, the state faced a broad range of extremist threats last year but one tops them all. The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Jared Maples recently sat down with Senior Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: So your office has just released its annual threat assessment. What’s at the top of that list?

Maples: So thank you for having me to discuss the threat assessment. I think it’s important to get this out to the community, so I want to make sure I start off by saying that. But in the threat assessment, what we do is we categorize by different groups that we know are potential threats to the state of New Jersey. So we really categorize it based off of that versus overarching domestic or foreign terrorism, etc., so we go by the groups. It’s important to say that because they’re broken down that way through our methodology. In New Jersey, we view HVEs as our highest individual threat.

Cruz: Say what an HVE is.

Maples: Which is a homegrown violent extremist. That’s like [Sayfullo] Saipov, for example, the West Side Highway truck attack of a year and a half ago. [Ahmad Khan] Rahimi would be an HVE. So the more modern, newer attacks that we’re seeing are being conducted by HVEs, and we still view them as the highest threat group to the state of New Jersey. Part of the HVEs is the foreign threat, the foreign terrorism threats — so al-Qaida, ISIS. They’re lower, from a threat perspective, than HVEs directly because they have to direct the attack, and there’s logistics and all the different operational areas they can impact that we can get out ahead of and in front of when al-Qaida and ISIS do it versus an HVE. They’re very difficult to track because they’re inspired by al-Qaida or ISIS, but they’re not necessarily tied or being directed by them.

Cruz: We’ve seen in the U.S. in recent years, I’d have to say in the last couple of years, the rise or the reemergence of, the recognition of, white nationalism, Nazism. Do you see that as well?

Maples: So absolutely. When taken in as a group, domestic terrorism, we put them under that umbrella — those groups you just mentioned, in addition to several other groups that we list in the report. Those groups, we’ve seen a pretty significant rise in both threats and actions. For example, KKK “flyering,” we call it, where they’ll put out flyers, recruiting posters, just different anti-Semitic postings, vandalism, various cemeteries and synagogues, churches, you name it — we’ve seen a pretty big up rise in that. And of course we have incidents, like the Pittsburgh shooting, for example. We have a very large Jewish population here in New Jersey, and we have a very large religious population across the board, and we are responsible for securing and protecting them. So those groups we’ve seen arise, but we’ve also correlated that by putting a big emphasis on not just the security aspects but funding it and making sure they are secure in those populations.

Cruz: And those threats take place, manifest themselves mostly as, you know, harassment. There hasn’t been any kind of violent incident here in New Jersey. Do you assess that as well, or do you just assess their likelihood for violence?

Maples: So again, without getting too far into the specifics of our methodologies and what we’re actually assessing, I will tell you that everything kind of goes into that methodology, the actual algorithm, and kind of looking through what those things are, threat is part of it, the actual incidents are part of it, the demographic of where it’s happening — the geographic location — all those different things are part of that. And I will tell you in New Jersey we’ve seen an uptick across all those areas. As you mentioned, there hasn’t been a Pittsburgh-like incident here. Again, without getting too far into the details, we’ve certainly headed off some of those incidents in the past before they’ve come into fruition here in New Jersey as well.

Cruz: So when you say you want to share this with the public, what is it that you want to share with the public? What should they be looking out for, and who should they be looking out for?

Maples: So three things. Number one is that there is a threat. So we want to highlight and show the public that there is a threat from certain groups that are out there, that we’re moderating and trying to make sure we stay ahead of when they do post hate language, or when they do the vandalism, when they do make threats. So making sure that people in all those different groups that are in our wonderfully-diverse state are aware of what the threats are against them. Two, we want to make sure that they know what to do about them. So we make sure we align the suspicious activity reporting system, the 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ, rather, 211, tips@NJOHSP.gov — all of these different mediums they can report those to. Those are important and what we want to get out. And the third thing, and really I think is probably the most important, is to just keep people aware. The further we are from incidents, we don’t want people desensitized to the fact that there are threats out there. We also want them to live their life, to know that we’re actually tracking these things and staying out ahead of them so that you can go to a ballgame or a concert and feel that the state of New Jersey and our partners in the FBI and the State Police, we’re on this and we’re working every day to stay ahead of these problems.

Cruz: How genuine is the threat to individuals from cyberthreats?

Maples: So I’m glad you brought up cyberthreats. Cybersecurity, the NJCCIC, happens to fall under us — it’s the New Jersey Cyber and Communications cell. That falls under Homeland Security but it’s done collaboratively. Cyber is an area that we’re going to have to deal with across any physical threat that happens. So whether it be a terrorist attack, they may post online, there might be hacking associated with it. Same thing with financial crimes, it can turn into bigger issues against various religious groups, or groups in general, individuals. We’re responsible for the cybersecurity aspects in the state of New Jersey, and in doing that, we’re tracking that and correlating that to any physical threat and all the other aspects.

Cruz: So you look at the cyberthreat more so as a conduit for other terroristic activity, not necessarily as a threat to individuals.

Maples: No, I would say both. I would say both, 100 percent. We track and do all those analysis and make sure the folks are aware of what the threats are. But we’re actually tracking both groups, and individuals, and their threat to them, and making sure they have the tools in place to protect themselves and help us protect them as well.

Cruz: And real quick, tell people how they can protect themselves, say, for instance, from cyberthreats.

Maples: So one of the biggest pieces is to practice great cyberhygiene — change your passwords, follow all the guidelines for not clicking on emails if it’s somebody you don’t know. There’s a lot of different available resources that we have at the NJCCIC, or you can go to our website at NJOHSP.gov. They’re all itemized and listed there, and if you follow some basic guidelines online, you could really protect yourself and your loved ones from any time of intrusion — individual or group.