- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) - There’s a patch of land in New Jersey - spanning roughly from Exit 13A on the Turnpike to Newark International Airport and the ports of Newark and Elizabeth - that homeland security experts call “the most dangerous two miles in America.”

With critical infrastructure, major thoroughfares and sensitive chemical processing facilities, NJ.com (http://bit.ly/1MtqaB8) reports that officials in New Jersey are particularly worried about the state’s vulnerability to terror attacks.

The state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness held its 10th anniversary conference on Friday, bringing together local, state and federal law enforcement and security experts to discuss looming threats ranging from radical terrorists to malicious hackers.

Among the speakers were newly-appointed acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan.

More and more, the speakers said, those who wish to do the U.S. harm are communicating, organizing and acting out online.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a former prosecutor who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office, noted that the group was meeting nearly 16 years after law enforcement in New Jersey first addressed a threat cropping up in an e-mail inbox.

In 1999, an Aberdeen Township man unleashed “Melissa,” an early e-mail virus that wreaked havoc on computers in New Jersey and across the globe.

“Within a week, 100,000 systems had been shut down,” Guadagno recalled. “Some people say that it even knocked NATO offline.”

David Smith, Melissa’s creator, was the first person charged with a federal crime for sending a computer virus. He later worked with law enforcement to help them understand the virus and thwart other would-be hackers.

“We got the bad guy to help us catch the bad guys,” Guadagno said. “We need to do a better job developing cyber sleuths so we don’t have to hire the bad guy.”

Prior to the terror attacks of 9/11, Guadagno added, law enforcement “rarely communicated” between agencies. Now, aided by the state’s Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell, state agencies like the State Police share information with county and local law enforcement and federal authorities at the click of a button.

Booker, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said such communication is necessary to thwart home-grown terror threats and those from abroad.

Booker, a prolific Twitter user, has introduced legislation that would encourage universities to develop messaging to combat the aggressive social media recruiting campaigns by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State.

“For me, technology presents untold opportunity for our country,” Booker said. “But it also presents evolving threats.”

The senator also discussed efforts to increase federal homeland security funding for New Jersey, which was threatened after the Federal Emergency Management Agency reduced the state’s terror threat rating. Federal officials later restored New Jersey’s ranking, acknowledging the density of infrastructure and industrial facilities.

The state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, created in 2006, provides regular threat assessments for New Jersey based on the global climate of foreign and homegrown extremism.

Their latest threat assessment, released in January, found that homegrown terrorists presented the greatest threat to New Jersey. It also listed terror attacks from ISIS, al Qaeda, militia groups, sovereign citizen groups and white supremacists as “moderate” threats.

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Information from: NJ Advance Media.

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