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Lessons in counterterrorism

The Baltimore Sun

TEL AVIV -- On a steamy Mediterranean morning this week, Baltimore County Police Capt. Roman Zaryk stood on the spot where a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Dolphinarium disco in 2001, killing 21 Friday night partygoers, many of them teenagers.

Suicide bombers, of course, are not a threat Zaryk encounters in his work as head of the criminal intelligence section in Baltimore County. But in the six years since the Sept. 11 attacks, police departments large and small have awakened to the once unthinkable possibility of attacks in their communities.

"If you don't prepare before, you can't prepare once something does occur," says Zaryk, whose section investigates gangs, drug dealing and organized crime.

This week, Zaryk and a dozen other law enforcement officers representing police departments from Maryland to California are here to learn from their Israeli counterparts about methods and techniques for preventing bombings, securing airports and border crossings and performing mass rescue operations. The trip is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based, pro-Israel, Jewish advocacy group that has trained hundreds of law enforcement officials about domestic and international terror.

Many officers describe the experience as the opportunity to study at what they consider the "Harvard" of counterterrorism schools.

"They are the most-practiced, most-experienced in terrorism and counterterrorism. Their willingness to share is remarkable. They share their mistakes and their successes," says Zaryk.

One of the group's first lessons was to experience how widespread the bombing threat has been during the years of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Shortly after the officers landed in Israel on Sunday, they sat down for drinks in Mike's Place, a popular bar on the Tel Aviv promenade where three people were killed and more than 50 injured during an attack in 2003.

The next morning, Israeli Police Chief Superintendent Ilan Mor offered a tour of the Dolphinarium bombing site.

Both incidents served as a wake-up call for Israelis, Mor said, to break down the walls separating Israel's intelligence services, military, police forces and private security firms so that they could share information and prevent other attacks.

"We can only minimize the risk of future attacks by working together," Mor said.

The American police officials also received briefings on how Jerusalem keeps the Old City and its main shopping mall safe, and they toured Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, considered to be one of the most secure airports in the world.

Unlike in the United States, where racial and ethnic profiling is forbidden, Israeli airport officials explained how they use profiling to identify suspicious passengers, questioning them extensively and performing searches if necessary. Dozens of undercover, armed security officers mill among the passengers, an airport official explained.

At a training site for Israel's border patrol in the rocky hills of the West Bank, the American officials were given a live fire demonstration of Israeli techniques for storming buildings, killing suicide bombers in a crowded pedestrian mall and controlling checkpoints.

Many of these training exercises, of course, have little application to the challenges faced by local and state police forces in the United States, where drug dealing, car thefts and home burglaries may occupy much of their time.

"Our mission is a little different," said Drew Tracy, assistant chief of the Montgomery County Police Department in Rockville after watching a sniper demonstration by the Border Police.

Tracy says he was surprised to learn that Ben Gurion Airport alone has about as many security officials as his entire Montgomery County police force has officers, about 1,200.

But, he added, the training this week will be valuable if the need arises.

"Since 9/11, Montgomery County has taken a serious role in any type of terrorism training. We realize that it can be a reality in our jurisdiction," he said.

Zaryk said he has received valued lessons from Israeli officials this week, and during previous Israeli-led training exercises in the United States, about gathering human and electronic intelligence that he can apply to investigations into organized crime and gangs.

"They have a specific threat and we have multiple concerns that we deal with, but their techniques are so rehearsed and so practiced and polished it's giving me insight into how we can enhance our abilities. That's really the purpose of the trip," he said.

The regular use of profiling by Israeli officials is a technique that is not only illegal in the United States but could be detrimental to the complex threats in America, Zaryk said.

"If you limit yourself to one specific profile then you are not doing a thorough investigation," he said, noting how Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh would slip through a security strategy focused on people from the Middle East.

"You have international terrorist threats and you have domestic threats and you can't lose sight of that," Zaryk said.

After 9/11, many critics said that the U.S. intelligence services had failed to put together pieces of evidence that might have prevented the attacks. One of the lessons learned by law enforcement officials since then is the importance of sharing their information freely - a lesson that Israeli officials mastered long ago.

"The Israel Police are on the front line constantly," said Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for Israel Police, noting that since 2001, his department has dealt with some 120 suicide attacks. "The fact things are calm now is due to the fact that we are carrying out operations all the time."

Rosenfeld said that since 9/11, Israel has received dozens of delegations from the United States - including the CIA and FBI as well as local police officers - who are interested in learning more about methods to combat terrorism. The New York City Police Department has one officer based in Israel full time who participates in investigations of bombings and attacks so he can train members of his own department, Rosenfeld said. The deepening security relationship between Israel and the United States has some Muslim groups worried that American police officials may begin adopting profiling techniques of Israel.

"It's always a concern that people return with a very negative impression of Muslims and Arab culture, and is that going to be translated into police work in the United States?" asked Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.

"We've always been concerned when these kinds of trips become exercises in political indoctrination in which everything Israel does is good and just and everything Palestinians do is perceived as evil and unjust," Hooper added.

But Arieh O'Sullivan, spokesman for the ADL, said the tour's goal was strictly focused on offering guidance in security techniques - nothing more.

"It's a homeland security mission, not a mission to learn about the Middle East conflict. We're not trying to indoctrinate anyone," he said.

jmurphy@baltsunnews.com

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