by John Porretto, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi's new FBI chief is pulling together law enforcement officials from across the state to fight terrorism if it ever strikes close to home.
Edwin L. Worthington, who became special agent in charge in Jackson two months ago, is creating the Mississippi Joint Terrorism Task Force to provide a statewide network of information on terrorist activities.
The group will work out of the Jackson FBI office but will include representatives of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and police and sheriff's departments from various parts of the state.
"It doesn't mean we have a large terrorism problem in Mississippi," Worthington said Tuesday in a meeting with The Associated Press' Jackson staff.
"It means that whatever terrorism we might have here, whether it's domestic or international, I'm given certain resources by Washington and, by God, I better use them."
The new chief, a former deputy director of the CIA's counterterrorism center in Langley, Va., said he's sent his proposal to FBI headquarters.
After getting approval, the FBI and other agencies will identify task force members, who will be required to go through background checks and receive security clearances.
Those clearances could make it easier for FBI agents to share sensitive information with local officers.
After that, training will begin.
"There's a significant amount of training I can bring to Jackson from Washington - from the intelligence community as well as from FBI headquarters," said Worthington, a 29-year veteran of the agency. "Then we'll be ready to get started. I'm hoping I can do this as quickly as possible, but I can't say when."
Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner David Huggins said he has no doubt the task force will be well received by police chiefs, sheriffs and others.
"The entire law enforcement community - local, state and federal - is focused on being a part of the solution," Huggins said. "Having the proper information is critical. This will be another vehicle for achieving that mission."
Since coming to Jackson, Worthington has taken part in three seminars involving 600 law enforcement officers in Mississippi, speaking to them on his personal knowledge of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Worthington joined the FBI in 1973. Besides tours in New Orleans, New York, Washington, Boston and Chicago, he was chief of the Middle East Terrorist Groups Unit at FBI headquarters.
Civil rights and white-collar crimes will remain priorities for Mississippi's 67 FBI agents, Worthington said, but combating terrorism became the top mission within every FBI field office on Sept. 11.
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"It made us refocus," he said. "Right now our No. 1 priority across the country, without exception, is preventing another terrorist attack, plain and simple. We're in a preventive mode."