The United States is safer now than it was when terrorists attacked New York and Washington 10 years ago, yet terrorism remains a significant threat, Tom Kean Sr., the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said Friday.
Earlier Friday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged New Jerseyans to go ahead with their weekend plans as federal authorities pursue a new terrorism threat in New York or Washington before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Homeland Security chief Charlie McKenna said security had been beefed up ahead of Saturday's 9/11 ceremonies at Liberty State Park in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Sunday's New York Jets-Dallas Cowboys football game at the Meadowlands. He told a meeting of Christie's cabinet on Friday morning in Princeton that New Jersey could be an attractive alternative for terrorists unable to strike heavily patrolled landmarks in New York.
"New Jersey, with its proximity to New York and the amount of critical infrastructure here, presents many targets to a would-be terrorist," he said. "New York is there, we are here. We are, I think, an appetizing alternative target to terrorists who may want to hit Times Square but Times Square is too busy, too many police, so they come to New Jersey where they can wreak some havoc."
Kean, who served two terms as governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990, said he's most concerned about homegrown terrorists with less grandiose plans than attacking the World Trade Center or Pentagon. He said domestic terrorists are more difficult than international terrorists to thwart because they have U.S. passports.
"The scariest thing to me is they've been able to recruit over the Internet," Kean said, "so we now have to worry about people who may have American passports and may be American citizens as part of that threat."
Kean's comments came Friday during an address to law enforcement officers at a state police regional operations center in Ewing, N.J.
Kean said strides have been made in information-sharing among law enforcement agencies, but communication difficulties persist for first responders.
The 9/11 Commission criticized the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation in its final report, concluding that failures of the agencies allowed the attacks to occur. Kean has been critical of the slow pace of adopting the commission's recommendations.
He deemed the latest threat "serious."
"The judgment they made in Washington was this was serious enough to tell us all about it so we could be alert and we could report things if we saw them," he said.
Christie urged New Jerseyans to be on their toes, but said they shouldn't change their plans because of the threat, which was deemed credible but unconfirmed.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said residents who see something unusual should call the law enforcement tip line or local police.
McKenna told the Cabinet federal authorities are pursuing two people who may be entering the country to meet up with a third person already here.