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Tennessee Terror Target?

July 14, 2006

This article talks about Homeland Security and possible terror targets.  Since visting Nashville this January and  “meeting” several bloggers from that part of the country, I wanted to give you all a heads up.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ They are slices of Tennessee culture: couples browsing for antiques at the Sweetwater Flea Market and thousands of people lining the quiet streets of Columbia to watch a parade of mules.

Somehow, these two Volunteer State gatherings ended up on a national Homeland Security database of places vulnerable to terror attacks.

“Our biggest problem is a shoplifter or a puppy loose,” said Angela McNabb, manager of the flea market.

There were similar sentiments from officials in Maury County, where the annual Mule Day parade is held every April.

“I guess we’ll take the free publicity,” said Frank Tamberrino, president of the Maury Alliance, essentially the county’s chamber of commerce. “That’s the positive.”

The database was criticized this week by the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog as faulty because it omits many more likely targets for terrorist attacks, such as Times Square and the Empire State Building in New York City. The data are used to help allocate security funding among states.

It left some local officials in Tennessee puzzled _ and a bit amused.

“We’re just all one great big family,” said McNabb, whose 800-booth flea market just off Interstate 75 attracts 8,000 visitors each weekend. “It’s a place where a family can bring the kids and the pets. It’s like Disney World.”

In Columbia, an estimated 100,000 people gather on the first Saturday each April to watch dozens of mules parade peacefully through downtown.

“It’s down-home Americana,” Tamberrino said. “If someone from a different country came here, they’d experience the real Tennessee.”

He believes the size of the parades’ attendance could have landed on the list, which includes 975 listings in Tennessee.

“It’s a large concentration of people in a small area focused on entertainment. It’s where a lot of people would be letting their guard down, I guess.”

Gov. Phil Bredesen attends every year, as do many members of the state’s congressional delegation and candidates for office.

“In an odd way, it’s nice to be recognized as a premier event that attracts a large and diverse audience,” Tamberrino said. “Would we have a target on our back? I don’t know.”

Dave Mitchell, director of Homeland Security for Tennessee, offered no explanation except that the mule parade and flea market fit the criteria of large events and gatherings and were suggested by local governments.

A complete listing of the Tennessee sites was not available, but under federal guidelines it should include venues like LP Field in Nashville, Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Bristol Motor Speedway and business infrastructure like railyards and chemical plants.

“We’re continuing to work with (the federal) Homeland Security on this,” he said. “We’ll do our part.”

McNabb, ever the promoter, saw the listing as a way to publicize her business with the scenic Smoky Mountains as a fetching backdrop.

“Our vendors are small business operators; we are an incubator for them, allow them to compete against Wal-Mart.

“If it’s been made, you can buy it here. We’d like to invite everyone down to see us and see how wonderful it is. Saturday and Sunday, 8 to 5. We have excellent bargains. Exit 60, right off I-75.”

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