The remarks were made during the 10th annual conference of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness on March 18. Local, state, and federal officials discussed potential threats varying from radical terrorists to hackers.
Officials said critical infrastructure, sensitive chemical processing facilities and major highways make New Jersey especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
The two-mile area that is referred to as the most dangerous in the country stretches from Exit 13A on the New Jersey Turnpike going towards Newark Airport up to Elizabeth.
“In my 35 years of national security experience, I have never seen a time when the volume and complexity of the national security challenges we face has been greater,” said CIA Director John Brennan at the conference, according to NJTV.
Officials said that those who want to cause harm are talking, organizing, and acting out on the internet.
“I strongly, strongly encourage all of you who have any type of homeland security preparedness, law enforcement intelligence responsibility, to be as proactive as possible in understanding what is going on in that digital domain,” said Brennan.
“New Jersey businesses are not just at some risk for cyber attacks, or assaults, or data breaches—they are at high risk,” said New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
— NJ Homeland Security (@NJOHSP) March 18, 2016
Officials also recalled an attack in 1999 known as “Melissa,” an email virus that affected computers across the world.
“Within a week, 100,000 systems had been shut down,” said Guadagno about the attack.
“Some people say that it even knocked NATO offline,” she added.
The creator of Melissa, David Smith, was the first person charged with a federal crime for the cyber attack. He then joined law officials to educate them on the virus to prevent attacks from others.
“We got the bad guy to help us catch the bad guys,” Guadagno said about Smith.
“We need to do a better job developing cyber sleuths so we don’t have to hire the bad guy,” she continued.
— NJ Homeland Security (@NJOHSP) March 19, 2016
The 2016 Terrorism Threat Assessment put homegrown terrorism as the biggest threat to New Jersey, followed by ISIS, al Qaeda, militia groups, sovereign citizen groups and white supremacists, which were all listed as moderate.
The report also said five homegrown violent extremists that were inspired by ISIS were arrested in 2015. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania accounted for 27 percent of all arrests of homegrown extremist across the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.