- Associated Press - Friday, September 9, 2011

BALTIMORE — Gov. Martin O’Malley highlighted progress Maryland has made in homeland security over the past decade at a symposium Friday, and he said the state will be extra vigilant as U.S. officials warn of a credible but unconfirmed terror threat against New York and Washington around the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. O’Malley, who received a security briefing Thursday night, told reporters after a speech at the University of Maryland in Baltimore that state officials had anticipated heightened vigilance during the anniversary. Still, he noted some extra precautions were being taken.

“Some of the things that we will be doing is pushing out some of the very helpful information we received from homeland security, sort of what they call trip-wire questions, that need to be disseminated to say, hotel security, convention center security and other employees, … just to kind of keep their memory going about suspicious people that might be asking about the security details or when doors open or how you get on roofs or things about the ventilation system, so we’ll be spreading that information out, and that’ll be different in light of this threat,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he received classified briefings Thursday.

“We’ve received information from a credible source that has not been confirmed,” Mr. Ruppersberger said.

The congressman said information recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan — where he was killed in a military raid in May — indicated an attack could come on an occasion like the anniversary.

“The good news is that we are on high alert in Washington and New York,” Mr. Ruppersberger said.

The governor has long been interested in homeland security and the technology related to it, dating back to his days as Baltimore’s mayor, when he chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s homeland security committee.

Mr. O’Malley, speaking at a symposium titled: “Ten Years After 9/11: Building a Prepared and Resilient Maryland,” underscored progress on a dozen security points that the state has made over the past decade, but he noted there’s much more to be done.

“The human body is capable of absorbing many blows and many wounds,” Mr. O’Malley said. “The human heart, even when damaged, can continue to pump and function up to a point. In the same way, we need to think about our state and our country as a body that has to develop a better capacity of taking a hit, whether from terror or from a natural disaster and being able to continue to move forward and recover.”

Strong preparation could dissuade terrorists from even attacking a well-prepared state or city at all, the governor said.

Mr. O’Malley underscored the importance of creating a statewide communication network that first responders can use with state and local officials. He said improvements have been made in metropolitan and regional areas, and the first phase of a statewide communications network is scheduled to be complete by the end of next year.

The governor also pointed out the large growth in closed-circuit security cameras around the state to protect infrastructure. Ten years ago, the city of Baltimore only had a few cameras run by a downtown partnership.

Within two years, the city had a network of 50 cameras. Now, there are more than 500 in the city. The state now has more than 8,400 cameras around Maryland that share feeds with local governments.

State officials also are sharing information better with federal and local partners, with the help of the state’s “fusion center,” where officials from all three levels of government work together. Mr. O’Malley said the center answered nearly 12,000 requests of all kinds from local law enforcement — twice the amount as five years ago.

Mr. O’Malley said increased information sharing could have resulted in the arrest of Ziad Jarrah, a hijacker who was pulled over by a Maryland state trooper for speeding on Interstate 95 in Cecil County on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before the attacks. Jarrah was one of the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

“Today, if someone like Ziad Jarrah were wanted on a terrorist watch list, the trooper who stopped him for speeding would be alerted during that traffic stop and would arrest him on the spot,” Mr. O’Malley said. “How? Through one of the most comprehensive fusion centers in the country, which we built here in Maryland and which we recognize still can improve every day in every way.”

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