State's homeland security chief speaks at breakfast

September 02, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

The state's homeland security director agreed to meet with Hagerstown Regional Airport officials after it came to light Wednesday that the statewide office was not aware of local security efforts related to presidential visits to Camp David.

Dennis Schrader, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, spoke Wednesday morning at a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Plaza Hotel in Hagerstown, and took questions after the talk.

Schrader has held his position since July 2003. He and his staff are in charge of carrying out Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's orders for homeland security changes and for coordinating those efforts throughout state offices.


Pamela Christoffel, who works in a fund-raising office for Washington County Hospital, asked Schrader about the state's role in helping Washington County provide security related to Camp David visits.

When visiting Camp David, the president and other officials often land at Hagerstown Regional Airport, and dozens of local police provide escort assistance.

Schrader said he was not aware of Washington County's specific concerns when it came to dealing with Camp David.

Schrader said after the event that learning about Camp David security concerns was good to know, but it isn't clear how the state would help out because the Secret Service has tight control over presidential security.

"They generally don't need our help ... (but) maybe there's an opportunity to provide some assistance," Schrader said.

Although it was surprising that Schrader wasn't aware of the county's concerns, he made efforts to become more knowledgeable, said Greg Larsen, the business development manager at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"We've agreed to get him here again in the future to meet us here at the airport," Larsen said.

During his discussion, Schrader also said security efforts in the state have improved over the past three years, but Ehrlich's administration would continue to expand anti-terror efforts.

"This is a marathon. This is not a sprint," Schrader said.

Schrader cited the recent detention of a Northern Virginia man with Middle Eastern ties as an example of strides made in providing better security.

According to news reports, Ismael Selim Elbarasse was taken into police custody last month after someone inside the family sport utility vehicle was seen taking videotape on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

While the videotape showed what appeared to be vacation footage, Elbarasse was held as a material witness in Baltimore in connection with an unrelated case in Chicago. Elbarasse was released this week on $1 million bond.

Schrader said a Baltimore County police officer saw the vehicle and believed it to be a suspicious situation. That officer contacted transportation police, and it turned out that Elbarasse was on a federal watch list.

"That could not have happened three years ago," Schrader said. "Intelligence and prevention are the key to winning the war on terrorism."

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