WASHINGTON — A Jewish security network will be used as a national model by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Secure Community Network, established 4 1/2 years ago by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America, will be expanded “to include other communities as well,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a speech late last month on preparedness.
“They’re a benchmark of what we’d like to be doing with other groups,” said William Flynn, acting assistant secretary of infrastructure protection for the Department of Homeland Security in an interview with JTA. “They’ve got a network and a means of reaching out — they’re proactive.”
For example, Flynn said his department has 96 infrastructure security specialists throughout the United States that SCN has been connecting with local Jewish organizations for security reviews. Homeland Security also partners with SCN to hold webinars providing advice to Jewish groups on how to spot security risks. And the department has worked with SCN on special Jewish community events such as the annual JCC Maccabi Games.
With a four-person staff, SCN also disseminates information it receives from Homeland Security on security threats through its alert system to more than 500 member institutions.
“We bring them in and brief them at the classified level,” Flynn said.
Paul Goldenberg, national director of SCN, said giving law enforcement a central address for security matters in the Jewish world helps both sides.
Prior to SCN, informing institutions of a potential threat was much more cumbersome. In one instance, FBI officials received a potential threat to Jewish institutions and visited a few New York-area synagogues to spread the word.
With SCN, one phone call can apprise everyone at risk. And SCN can provide “credible information” and a “consistent and singular message” to the community,” Goldenberg said.
Goldenberg already has been involved in several meetings at Homeland Security on expanding SCN and been asked to be part of a team to work on the issue.
He said it makes sense that the Jewish community would be a trailblazer on this issue because it is the community where it is most needed.
“SCN wasn’t created out of paranoia,” Goldenberg said. “Unfortunately it’s a matter of record that members of the Jewish community have been killed and attacked in the past decade,” either by Muslim extremists or white supremacists.
“Law enforcement considers the Jewish community an extremely vulnerable community to terrorism,” he said.
Flynn said Homeland Security won’t necessarily be setting up mini-versions of SCNs for every other major faith community, but would be looking to use the SCN model to work with communities that have “some kind of concern for security” — whether it might be a network of Catholic or Muslim schools or, for instance, a regional consortium of energy companies.
“Groups that we believe are not getting information” they need are going to be targeted for inclusion, Flynn said.
Stephen Hoffman, then the CEO of Jewish Federations, said he and Presidents Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein came up with the idea for SCN during his organization’s 2003 General Assembly in Israel. After two synagogues in Turkey that week came under terrorist attack, they decided that “we really need to bolster security in our community.”
“It’s very gratifying to see years of careful thinking and planning and execution being recognized by a top official in the land — saying ‘Yeah, you got it right,’ ” said Hoffman, now the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.