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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The San Francisco Chronicle January 20, 2002

Winter Games security - swifter, higher, stronger

By Chuck Squatriglia

When the Olympics begin next month, there will be snipers in the mountains, bomb dogs in the grandstands and a warehouse full of Cipro, just in case.

Fighter jets will fly overhead. Soldiers will patrol the streets. Airspace will be restricted. Downtown will be sealed. Spectators will be searched and athletes will be screened. Electric fences will surround the venues, while security cameras will watch over all.

It will, in other words, be unlike any Olympics the world has ever seen. And for three weeks, Salt Lake City will be the most heavily fortified city in the world. "We will have more personnel, more money and more awareness of the threats than in any other Olympics in history," said FBI Special Agent Bill Forsythe of Salt Lake City. "We're as ready as we possibly can be."

The Winter Games will be an unprecedented mix of security and spectacle when the biggest post-Sept. 11 global gathering convenes Feb. 8. Olympic officials will employ 16,100 people and spend $315 million to protect the 2,300 Olympians and 80,000 spectators expected in Salt Lake City each day through Feb. 24.

The monumental effort represents the federal government's greatest involvement ever in the Olympics and offers a glimpse of what the Bay Area can expect if the Games come here in 2012.

Security has been a top concern for the International Olympic Committee since the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, where Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

The bombing in Atlanta's Centennial Plaza during the 1996 Summer Games further underscored the need for security, and Salt Lake began mapping out its security effort five years ago.

The plan was, by most accounts, among the most comprehensive in Olympic history even before Sept. 11. But the attacks on New York and the Pentagon prompted a top-to-bottom review.

Congress allocated an extra $40 million for security. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which is staging the Games, added $35 million, bringing the tab to $315 million.

That unprecedented sum is $15 million more than was spent in Atlanta, a figure made more extraordinary in light of the fact that the Winter Games typically draw one-third as many athletes and spectators as the Summer Games.

Government and Olympic officials said their security plan needed few revisions after Sept. 11 because most contingencies, including a chemical attack, already had been considered. But there were some additions:

  • Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt called up 2,100 National Guard soldiers, the largest deployment in state history. They will join 9,000 local, state and federal law officers and 5,000 Olympic workers in providing security.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the closure of Salt Lake City International Airport during opening and closing ceremonies and created a no-fly zone with a 45-mile radius around the airport. Most general aviation will be grounded for the Games.
  • Health authorities stockpiled the antibiotic Cipro and other drugs in case of a biological or chemical attack.
  • The Defense Department placed nearby Hill Air Force Base on high alert. F-16s and AWACS surveillance aircraft will patrol the skies.
  • Biometric scanners will identify athletes and Olympic officials.
  • Mail bound for Olympic Village will be screened, while athletes will live behind electric fences rigged with motion detectors. Similar measures will protect competition venues.

"We are convinced that we have addressed every conceivable source of threat," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "This will be the most safe and secure of any event that could be held on the world stage."

The White House agrees. Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, declared earlier this month that Salt Lake City will be "one of the safest places on the globe." And presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "We are well prepared for any contingency."

Such boasting is as much a part of the security plan as the metal detectors that will fill the city and the armed soldiers who will patrol it, security experts said.

"Your primary objective is to discourage anyone from even trying anything," said John Pike, founder of the national security think tank GlobalSecurity.org. "The way they are describing the security plan is part of that effort."

It appears to be working. Ridge and several terrorism experts said there have so far been no viable threats against the Games.

"There is no specific information talking about the Olympics being a target," Ridge said. "But the fact of it is this is an international stage that the world will be watching."

And that, experts said, means there is a risk of terrorism. Most agree a large-scale attack of the sort seen on Sept. 11 is unlikely. More probable is a repeat of what happened in Munich and Atlanta.

"The main things they're worried about are kidnapping, hostage situations or relatively small bombs that can be detonated in a crowd," Pike said.

But even those seem remote, he said, given the scale of the security effort under way in Utah.

"If I were an operative looking for targets, the Games would not be at the top of my list," he said. "I can think of several places in Washington that are low-hanging fruit by comparison."

Still, many of the nations sending athletes to Salt Lake are stepping up security. Most are providing their delegations with antibiotics and several - Norway and Australia among them - have assigned security directors to protect their squads.

Olympic officials took great pains to avoid turning the Games into an armed camp. Despite its grand scale, much of the security effort will be largely invisible to athletes and spectators, they said.

"We do not want to turn this into a security operation," said Robert Flowers, head of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. "This is about athletes. This is about celebration."

Striking a balance between celebration and security is tricky, experts said, and probably moot.

"I -don't think people at the Games are going to be concerned about balance," said Richard Horowitz, a terrorism expert who served in the Israeli army. "They're going to be concerned about security. The more they see, the better they'll feel."

The effort under way in Salt Lake City has been marked by a unity many said was lacking in Atlanta, where jurisdictional egos kept law enforcement agencies from working together.

Salt Lake organizers were eager to avoid those mistakes, which some said hobbled the investigation into the Centennial Park bombing. So, too, was Washington.

President Bill Clinton in 1998 declared the 2002 Games a "National Special Security Event." The directive for the first time defined the government's role in the Games and placed them under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service, FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Secret Service supervised the creation and implementation of the security plan. The FBI will monitor threats and investigate any attack. FEMA will handle the aftermath of any incident, from a natural disaster to terrorism.

To further coordinate security, the Utah Legislature in 1998 created the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. It includes representatives of 60 local, state and federal agencies involved in securing the Games and is widely credited with unifying the effort.

"We have done an outstanding job of getting everyone to work together," said David Tubbs, the command's executive director. "In my opinion, having been in Atlanta, we're considerably ahead of where they were."

The comprehensive security plan and the cooperation among those implementing it have so impressed Washington that the plan could become a blueprint for other large-scale events. Athens is also expected to follow Salt Lake's lead for the 2004 Summer Games.

"The extraordinary collaboration I have seen here would not be a bad model for the Office of Homeland Security to promote as we deal with the possibility of terrorism," Ridge said.

But that model has come at such a tremendous cost, and the Games have grown so expensive - $1.9 billion this year - that some question whether American cities, including San Francisco, should host the Olympics.

"Do we really want to bid for Games in the future?" organizer Romney asked in a recent New York Times story. "It's a valid question."

For Ridge and others in Washington, though, the answer is an emphatic yes.

"I think any opportunity we have to host these Games should be taken," Ridge said. "It sends a real strong message to the rest of the world that terrorism will not deter us. Terrorism will not prevail. Fear will not prevail. America will prevail. And America is going to host the Olympics."

Olympic security by the numbers

  • 5 years spent drafting the security plan
  • 9 square blocks of downtown Salt Lake City sealed off to vehicles
  • 26 miles of electric fences with motion detectors surround Olympic venues
  • 48 states sending police to Salt Lake City
  • 50 percent of Utah municipal police officers will work security
  • 60 local, state and federal agencies involved in security
  • 70 percent of Utah Highway Patrol officers will work security
  • 80 nations participating in the Games.
  • 500 police officers from 48 states coming to Utah
  • 1,000 security cameras, some capable of reading security badges from 1,000 feet
  • 1,100 bomb detection and disposal experts on hand
  • 2,100 National Guardsmen activated
  • 2,300 athletes participating in the Games
  • 5,000 Olympic employees and volunteers assigned to security detail
  • 9,000 local, state and federal law enforcement officers on security detail
  • 80,000 spectators expected in Salt Lake City each day
  • $315 million spent on security

Copyright 2002 The Chronicle Publishing Co.