Maryland and Washington DC rely on Israel’s homeland security expertise

“Israel has a system that has been refined because they have learned from each incident.” – Maryland Homeland Security spokesman Jim Pettit.Israeli expertise in security and anti-terrorism strategies continues to be the guiding light for American law enforcement agencies and …

“Israel has a system that has been refined because they have learned from each incident.” – Maryland Homeland Security spokesman Jim Pettit.Israeli expertise in security and anti-terrorism strategies continues to be the guiding light for American law enforcement agencies and homeland security departments. Ties between Israeli officials and Maryland’s Homeland Security Department and with the Washington DC police department are being strengthened amid more frequent terror alerts in the U.S.

A delegation of the State of Maryland’s Homeland Security Department was recently in Israel to study Israel’s anti-terrorism strategies. Funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the delegation followed a November meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, at which the two agreed to exchange “best practices” in homeland security as well as develop economic ties.

At that time, Barry Bogage, Executive Director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, which organized Erlich’s visit told ISRAEL21c, “The Governor is extremely interested in what Israel has to offer in the field of homeland security. State and local officials in this era have to pay attention to International affairs and terrorism – it is no longer just a federal issue. We want our partnership to Israel to help us with emergency preparedness, emergency medical treatment and law enforcement.”

Following up on that declaration, the eight-member delegation from Maryland at the end of July included representatives of the state’s transportation department, transit administration and police force, as well as Maryland’s Homeland Security Director, a sheriff of a local county and the security director for Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

During their six-day stay, the visitors studied various means of preventing terrorist attacks, from intelligence-gathering operations at Israel Police headquarters to robots that diffuse bombs and the x-ray scanning devices at the port of Ashdod. Jim Pettit, a spokesperson for the group, said that they were particularly interested in a presentation by the Ministry of Infrastructure showing how Israel prioritizes between high-profile and low-profile targets. “That is something we are working on in the U.S.,” he told Ha’aretz, “defining what is considered critical infrastructure.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Moyer, Chief of Maryland’s Homeland Security and Intelligence Bureau, said he was impressed by what he had seen, not only of Israel’s security forces but also of “the willingness of the citizens to engage in the security measures at malls, on the railways, at bus stations.”

Dennis R. Schrader, director of the governor’s homeland security office, joined state Assistant Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr., transit administration Police Chief Douglas DeLeaver, Charles County Sheriff Fred Davis and four others for a series of briefings with Israeli officials on security issues. The Maryland group toured the Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, the port of Ashdod, a commuter rail line and station, and a mass-casualty hospital, among other sites.

Schrader told The Baltimore Sun he was impressed with the “circles of security” in use in Israel – where personnel create a series of checkpoints inside and outside of facilities, screening entrants with increasing levels of scrutiny. He said he was also struck by how Israeli citizens accept the tight security conditions.

“Israel has been doing this for so long and they have sometimes learned the hard way. The country has a system that has been refined because they have learned from each incident,” said Pettit.

“We have the nation’s largest airport, the port of Baltimore, and commuter trains. There are some things we have in common with Israel. We are learning here a methodology for analyzing critical infrastructure,” said Pettit.

Founded only a year ago in response to 9/11, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security serves as a direct liaison to the US Department of Homeland Security and is dedicated to providing protection against domestic and foreign terrorism.

“When we come to Israel, it’s a chance for us to look under the hood of our own system and see what works and what doesn’t. No government has all the answers,” Pettit told The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that the police department in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C. has undergone intensive training with Israeli counterterrorism experts and bomb technicians.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer has taken several aggressive steps in recent months to heighten security around the Capitol, including retraining officers to shoot a suspected suicide bomber in the head if other efforts to stop an attack fail. Gainer’s decision last week to close a major thoroughfare and impose 14 vehicle checkpoints on Capitol Hill was one piece of a much larger security strategy, which has included Israeli involvement.

Since he became chief of the Capitol Police in 2002, Gainer, who is responsible for the security of the 535 members of Congress, has focused on what additional security measures could be instituted, he said.

In December 2002, he and several of his top commanders traveled to Israel with D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, other police chiefs and FBI officials to receive training on how to prevent and respond to suicide bombings. The trip was arranged by the Police Executive Research Forum, a training and research group.

Gainer sent other members of the Capitol Police force to Israel for instruction and began retraining officers here using Israeli counterterrorism techniques. Last month, the head of the Israeli bomb squad traveled to Washington for a second time to meet with Gainer and Capitol Police officers.