Terrorism and intelligence experts from across the Mid-Atlantic region are gathering Friday in New Jersey, for a special conference on domestic terrorism sponsored by the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

Director Chris Rodriguez said because terrorism doesn’t conform to state borders it’s important to meet with experts from neighboring states “to focus on domestic terrorism and domestic extremism, and try to share best practices, get to know each other, look at what we’re doing in our respective states and see if there are things we can learn from each other.”

He noted this kind of gathering is critically important because domestic terrorism is now considered to be the greatest threat to our security.

“A lot of the terrorist incidents that occur here in the United States are from people that have gone down the wrong path and might not necessarily have raised the attention of law enforcement and are very difficult to detect and deter,” he said. “The more we can gather with our regional counterparts to discuss our threat landscape and to share information and intelligence, I think the more secure we’ll be.

Participants at the conference include representatives from The Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center on Cyber & Homeland Security, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Maryland University’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, the New York Police Department, West Point’s Counterterrorism Center, and fusion center representatives from New York and Maryland.

So who are the people who pose the biggest risk?

“There are many individuals that by circumstance or choice are susceptible to radical messaging and violent messaging and are inspired to do violence without necessarily even sanction from a foreign terrorist organization,” said Rodriguez. “These are people we’re trying to identify in the community early on in that process, so that intervention can be done and those people can be taken care of.”

He noted in some instances domestic terrorists may even turn out to be what everyone considered to be the all-American kid living next door.

Rodriguez added terror groups like Al Qaeda, that directed people to fly airplanes into buildings, “were much more hierarchical and structured than most groups have become now, and so that requires law enforcement homeland security professionals to similarly adapt our counter-terrorism practices. What we’re trying to do with our partners with the state and local, but also with the FBI and other federal agencies is to take a grassroots community approach to counter this new threat, and I think going forward we’ll be successful in doing that.”

The conference, which is being held in New Brunswick, is limited to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, however the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness will be hosting an unclassified webinar on Tuesday, May 17, at 2 p.m. to discuss the conference findings. For more information, you can visit www.njohsp.gov.

Sign up for the NJ1015.com Newsletter

Get the best of NJ1015.com delivered to your inbox every day.