APG is chosen as site of antiterrorism school

Congress has approved $5 million start-up costs

January 28, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen Proving Ground has been chosen as the site for a $52 million counterterrorism school for diplomatic security workers and foreign law-enforcement officers -- a project that received $5 million in start-up funds from Congress this month.

The Center for Anti-Terrorism and Security Training could bring 100 to 200 jobs to Harford County and thousands of students a year, said Bill Richardson of the Army Alliance, a group that works closely with the proving ground.

Richardson called news of the selection "lovely" and said the timetable for opening the school would depend on added congressional funding and construction time, though he expects some classes to begin at the 72,000-acre proving ground on the Chesapeake Bay within a year or two.

Chuck Azukus, a policy adviser for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the State Department, said yesterday that the facility's open space was one of the deciding factors in the choice. Azukus said students would be able to work on active ranges, receive weapons and explosives training and take water-patrol classes.

Azukus said that while the $5 million appropriation is a small part of the funding needed for the center, "this project has been evolving for a number of years, and having this funding will allow it to go forward."

Richardson said the school would be in the northeastern corner of the Edgewood area on a 1,600-acre site at Lauderick Creek, a former test range for the Army's chemical school from the 1920s to the 1950s. A three-year cleanup of the Superfund site was completed last year by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Richardson said the Army's research on chemical and biological defense expertise at the proving ground also would likely be a draw for the school.

J. Thomas Sadowski, economic development director for Harford County, welcomed news of the funding yesterday. "It's a critical first step in the development of that facility," he said. "We're very excited about what [the school] means for APG, Harford County and, in particular, the Edgewood community."

Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, were able to obtain $5 million for the project in the 2004 Omnibus Appropriations bill approved this month, Mikulski's press office said yesterday. While the Senate budget bill contained the full $52 million for the school, the House bill contained nothing.

"I fought for funding for CAST because we need international cooperation to make America safer," Mikulski said. "I'm proud Maryland is going to host this critical effort."

Added Sarbanes, "In my view, Aberdeen Proving Ground, with its skilled work force and existing efforts to combat terrorism, is the ideal site at which to locate CAST."

The State Department's Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program trains security and law enforcement workers from around the world at about a half-dozen sites around the country, including New Mexico, Louisiana and Washington, Azukus said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, funding and interest in the program have ballooned.

Michael Kraft, legislative director for the Office of Counter-Terrorism in the State Department, said funding for the antiterrorism program has increased more than $30 million from last year to this year. "It's been growing steadily after 9/11," he said, though he noted that interest in the school far predates the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

"We actually proposed this ... training facility before 9/11, partly because of the bombings in East Africa," Kraft said, referring to blasts at U.S. embassies in 1998 that killed hundreds in Kenya and Tanzania.

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