- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

RICHMOND — The chief of Virginia’s anti-terrorism task force has warned against a common human condition — complacency — undermining vigilance and preparation for an attack.

Two years after radical Muslims flew airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, “our biggest enemy is complacency,” John H. Hager told a legislative subcommittee, which he urged to help keep the fight against terrorism on the front burner.

Mr. Hager, the former lieutenant governor, said later in an interview that he had not detected complacency settling in at either the federal or state levels but that the possibility is always there.

“I am only warning that it could develop. It’s a natural … thing,” he said last week.

Mr. Hager, assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness, briefed the House subcommittee on homeland security about Virginia’s efforts to protect its residents against terrorism since September 11, 2001.

He said “those were tough times” immediately after the terrorist attacks as he, Gov. James S. Gilmore III and other state officials grappled with the aftermath.

“We were trying to gain traction,” Mr. Hager said. “It has not been an easy task. Even today we talk about preparedness as if it’s something we are just beginning.”

But the state has “come a long way in two years,” with Gov. Mark Warner signing off on nearly 80 recommendations of Mr. Hager’s Secure Virginia Panel, a 28-member task force drawn from a broad cross section of leaders from state government, law enforcement, public safety, the military, business and education.

The recommendations, approved by the General Assembly, include expanding the line of succession to the governor, streamlining the distribution of medicine during an attack and development of a comprehensive database of all medical professionals in the state.

Mr. Hager said the state has received more than $260 million in federal anti-terrorism funds that have been used for everything from police and firefighting equipment to hire disease detectives on the lookout for biological attack.

The Secure Virginia Panel has no statutory authority to implement its proposals. Leveraging the power of the governor’s office, however, the panel has received “great cooperation” from all agencies of state government, Mr. Hager said.

“We used cooperation and persuasive methods to get things done,” Mr. Hager told the legislators. “It is an imperfect process, but I think it has worked well.”

D.W. Smit, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, briefed legislators on steps the agency has taken since some of the hijackers fraudulently obtained identification cards from the DMV.

“DMV has taken driver’s license and ID card security very seriously,” Mr. Smit said. “We do our best to weed out any bad activities.”

He pointed to the July arrests of two clerks at a DMV office in Northern Virginia on charges of helping more than 1,000 people obtain fraudulent Virginia driver’s licenses over a five-year period. Their misdeeds were uncovered internally, Mr. Smit said.

“DMV takes pride in doing things with honesty and integrity,” he said.

Samuel B. Witt III, president of Virginia Military Institute’s governing board, told the committee that VMI will host the Governor’s Homeland Security Conference Oct. 28 through Oct. 30. It will focus on the social and economic effect of terrorism, and will feature state officials as well as representatives from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

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