BY JOE RUTHERFORD
Federal, state and local officials from Mississippi responded with concern but not alarm Wednesday after Attorney General John Ashcroft's warning that credible evidence suggests al-Qaida is nearly ready for a major terror attack in the U.S.
Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Phil Sullivan said city and Lee County law enforcement officials stay in close touch about homeland security issues, with a plan for immediate response should an attack occur.
Sullivan, a retired military officer, said Tupelo and Lee County are part of the national Instant Command system.
Tupelo Police Chief Harold Chaffin said the command structure “puts everyone on the same sheet of music” in case of attack.
Wednesday, Chaffin said he expected to receive new information from federal homeland security officials about the new terrorism possibility.
“We're definitely concerned, too,” Chaffin said. “I have talked with some people about the nature of the information.”
Precise responses will depend on the nature of an attack and its proximity to Tupelo and Lee County, the chief said.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he had received the new federal information and had shared it with his officers.
“It's not that much different than what Gen. Ashcroft shared with the public, but law enforcement agencies get it first,” Johnson said. “It is things we need to be aware of right now.”
Johnson agreed with Chaffin that it's a big asset for all law enforcement to have the same information at the same time.
TVA staying on alert
Tennessee Valley Authority security spokesperson Lucha Ramey said TVA facilities have been on constantly heightened alert since 9-11.
“We follow the homeland security alert code,” Ramey said. “Generally, what we do is have increased patrols, more physical barriers and longer standoff distances at all our facilities.”
Ramey, who works out of Knoxville, said Memorial Day weekend enforcement will have the added impetus of terrorism information, plus the usual summer water safety emphasis by TVA's security and police operations.
TVA, the nation's largest public utility, controls Pickwick Dam and Reservoir and the Tennessee River. Pickwick and the river are heavily used by Northeast Mississippians during the summer vacation and recreation season.
U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, said he had no special briefings or information beyond what had been made public.
“The response of the Spanish government to the Spanish elections sent a terrible signal to international terrorists to the effect that it can have a positive effect on the outcome of elections,” Wicker said. “I think the reaction of responsible Americans would be very different.”
Wicker said he intends to continue as planned with summer activities, including the Republican National Convention in New York, accompanied by family members.