FBI chief says Miss., rural states not immune to terrorism

Published 8:09 pm Friday, December 7, 2007

FBI Director Robert Mueller says Mississippi is home to numerous military bases and universities that produce cutting-edge technology, factors that make terrorism a threat to the small, rural state.

Mueller said on Thursday that terrorist cells uncovered, investigated and prosecuted since Sept. 11, 2005, have involved people from diverse regions — from Oregon to Florida to California.

“Consequently, throughout the country you have to be alert for individuals who may harbor a desire to attack the United States and they could live in just about any segment of the country,” Mueller said during a brief visit to Jackson.

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Mississippi’s Gulf of Mexico port, military bases in Columbus, Meridian, and Biloxi and the Stennis Space Center could possibly be terrorist targets. Mueller also cited the state’s university system, where some college programs are among the nation’s leaders in scientific and technological research.

For instance, the University of Southern Mississippi was awarded in October an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to research materials that could be used to replace steel in the next generation of warships and aircraft.

“When you have the institutions of higher learning where you have your military contractors and the like, you also have other countries that wish to steal those secrets and catapult their own militaries so counterintelligence is a threat here,” Mueller said.

Keith Moses, acting assistant special agent in charge for the Mississippi FBI, said there has been terrorism activity in Mississippi in the past that has resulted in prosecution, but “not all of the FBI’s investigations into terrorism activity become public.”

Moses said the state’s joint terrorism task force has conducted investigations of people who frequently travel into and throughout the state along corridors in patterns similar to drug dealers. He said the task force, comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement, also has investigated individuals who may support terrorism through financial support, such as wire transfers and money service business transactions.

In a recent case, Brian Tedford pleaded guilty earlier this year to providing false information about an alleged terrorist plot that would have affected New York in 2005, Moses said.

Tedford was incarcerated at a north Mississippi jail at the time he had made his comments to a third party who then contacted the FBI, said Moses. Tedford was sentenced in June to five months on the federal charge.

During his news conference, Mueller also answered questions about FBI efforts to prevent incidents like Wednesday’s deadly shooting at Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. Police say Robert A. Hawkins, 19, killed eight people before shooting himself.

Mueller didn’t say specifically whether his agency would be involved in tightened security at malls crowded with holiday shoppers. He also didn’t say whether he believed malls could become terrorist targets.

“We are an open and free country,” Mueller said. “We don’t want guards at every doorway. We need to live our lives …, but be vigilant.”