By Michael Hill
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness says homegrown violent extremists are the greatest terrorist threat to the Garden State, making the landscape more dangerous than any since the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The prime reason for that is that the terrorist threat we saw immediately after 9/11, which was very structured and hierarchical, has become much more decentralized and diffuse,” said State Homeland Security Director Chris Rodriguez.
Rodriguez told this group combating targeted violence that vigilance, intelligence and preparedness are key to thwarting any attack.
The Newark FBI agrees but offers a different assessment on the danger.
“I think we’re at a high level. I think it’s been at this level for quite a while. I don’t really see a spike up or down in New Jersey,” said Newark FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel.
Rutgers Faith-Based Communities Security Program hosted this anti-terrorism briefing. A former Europol officer said terrorists are learning from their mistakes and he quoted another counter-terrorism specialist’s blunt prediction.
“We’re moving toward a European 9/11,” said Sean Griffin.
Griffin says Europeans going to Syria and Iraq for training and radicalization and returning represent some of the biggest threats to the continent.
“That’s the real challenge to channel these individuals away from that path,” he said. “We don’t want to put fear in to the communities. In my view it’s about being alert rather than alarmed.”
“The public is often our first line of defense. What this means is that we, as a law enforcement community and homeland security community, need to be constantly pushing unclassified threat intelligence to the public,” Rodriguez said.
The consensus is the threat level in New Jersey is as high as it is not because of what the experts can see but often because of what they can’t see and what they can’t access, but what they know is there.
“As the terrorist threat has grown and as it has evolved, our collective ability to detect and deter such attacks is getting smaller and smaller,” Rodriguez said.
“And where are we now, at least from a Newark FBI and working with our state and local partners, where are we going? Be honest, don’t know,” Frankel said.
But, one former federal official says they know how they can identify a homegrown violent extremist.
“What they have in common is that these are people who are coming from difficult or dysfunctional family environments. We have a large number of people who are disconnected with the community — they’re on the fringes of the community is what we’re hearing over and over as we’re looking at these people. A series of life failures,” said former deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security John Cohen.
But, increasingly as the homegrown terrorists are succeeding, New Jersey’s Homeland Security Chief told local law enforcers his department has the resources to prepare them for whatever the threat level is.