Keesler AFB among finalists for cyberterrorism HQ

Published 6:09 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi is a finalist to become the nation’s headquarters in the fight against cyberterrorism.

The first national command to fight in cyberspace, its location here would be a major coup for Biloxi and Mississippi — “as big as any Nissan plant, Toyota plant” or large casino project, said Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Clark Griffith.

Griffith presented the proposal to the Biloxi City Council on Tuesday. He said the Cyberspace Command Headquarters would bring up to 10,000 jobs to the city.

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The Cyberspace Command is designed to defend strategic computer systems against electronic warfare. Projections say that could bring to the region 10,000 to 15,000 jobs with annual payroll of at least $750 million.

Fifteen other sites are under consideration.

Griffith told the city council that Keesler’s chief competition is Langley Air Force Base in Virginia; Offutt in Nebraska; Colorado Springs, Col.; and Barksdale in Shreveport, La.

All the others except the Shreveport base already have major commands, he said.

“Keesler is already the electronics-training headquarters for the Air Force and the home to the second-largest medical facility in the Air Force,” said Mayor A.J. Holloway, who is working with Griffith to bring the command to Biloxi.

If Biloxi is chosen as the site of the Cyberspace Command, “this will solidify Keesler as a major base forever,” Holloway said, and Keesler Medical Center, because the Air Force has never closed a major command headquarters.

Griffith said the Keesler proposal will be presented to the chief of staff of the Air Force on Feb. 13 or Feb. 14. He said Gov. Haley Barbour, U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and Mississippi State University President Robert Fogelsong, a retired four-star general, were scheduled to attend.

Griffith said the decision on where to locate the Cyberspace Command is expected by early March; by fall, work should begin to establish the headquarters.

Wherever the new Cyberspace Headquarters is located, Keesler will get a piece of the pie. Air Force personnel who staff the center will be trained at Keesler, Griffith said.