There’s a patch of land in New Jersey — spanning from Exit 13A on the Turnpike to Newark 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, officials 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 acting Attorney General Robert Lougy, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and CIA 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 federal prosecutor, noted that the group was meeting nearly 16 years after law enforcement in New Jersey first addressed a threat cropping up in an email inbox.
In 1999, an Aberdeen Township man unleashed “Melissa,” an early email virus that wreaked havoc on computers 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.”
The state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, created in 2006, provides regular threat assessments for New Jersey based on the global climate of 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 Qaida, militia groups and white supremacists as “moderate” threats.