Aberdeen first choice for school

State Department eyes site for training against terrorism

100 jobs possible

Move to consolidate scattered efforts awaits funding

October 04, 2001|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen Proving Ground is the preferred location for a $52 million counterterrorism training school for foreign law-enforcement officers and diplomatic security workers, a U.S. State Department official said yesterday.

The Center for Anti-Terrorism and Security Training (CAST) would bring about 100 jobs to the Harford County military base, as well as thousands of students, said Michael Craft, legislative director for the Office of Counter-Terrorism at the State Department.

"It's not a done deal. I think it's fair to characterize APG as the first choice. But it would depend on approval of funding by OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] and final approval of Congress," he said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday about Aberdeen Proving Ground misspelled the name of Michael Kraft, legislative director for the Office of Counter-Terrorism at the U.S. State Department. The Sun regrets the error.

Lawmakers expect the OMB to ask that some funding for the center be taken from the $40 billion emergency package approved by Congress to combat terrorism and to help pay for the recovery from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the OMB has not included the center in its proposal to Congress.

The school would consolidate training sites scattered across the country in the State Department's Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The State Department has been considering sites for the center for about two years, Craft said.

"The reason we want CAST is to consolidate, so our scheduling of classes is not dependent on another host agency and so we can offer more courses without running into delays," he said.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security trains people who protect embassies abroad, the State Department and visiting foreign officials.

The Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program has trained about 25,000 foreign security and law-enforcement workers from more than 100 countries, Craft said. Participants learn about topics such as bomb detonation and disposal, defensive driving to protect against ambush, hostage negotiation, and maritime, border and aircraft control. The program does about 10 percent of its training abroad, he said.

"We consider the anti-terrorism training program as a major foothold in our international terrorism effort," Craft said. "It also builds good policy-level contact with other countries."

If funding for the center is approved this year, the school would likely open in 2003, Craft said. Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia was also considered a finalist, he said, "but the preference has come down to Aberdeen. It has existing facilities that could be adapted. It's kind of a close call."

Aberdeen Proving Ground has unused dormitories, a cafeteria, practice ranges, an ordnance school and experts who train first responders to chemical, nuclear and biological attacks. The installation is also close to Washington, which would allow students to attend meetings there, and is near the MARC commuter rail line and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Mickey Morales, spokesman for the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command at APG, referred questions yesterday to the State Department.

"Aberdeen Proving Ground can't speak on this matter until the decision is made as far as where [the facility is] located and where the funding will come from," he said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said yesterday that she has tried to secure funds for the project for several months.

"I'm proud the State Department has decided ... that Aberdeen Proving Ground is the best site," she said in a prepared statement. "Yet at this point, it remains an unfunded proposal. The Center will strengthen anti-terrorism programs to foster international cooperation and improve training for the diplomatic security officers who protect America's diplomats around the world."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose district includes Harford County, wrote letters this week of support for the center to Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Richard L. Armitage, deputy secretary of state. Ehrlich could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Aberdeen Proving Ground has a combined military and civilian work force of more than 14,000 people. It is the single largest employer in Harford County and contributes $541.7 million annually to the local economy.

The county's director of government and community relations and public information, Merrie Street, welcomed the possibility of the school, but added: "It's really just a proposal because there's no funding. We think Aberdeen is an ideal site, but until there's funding, there's no school."

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