- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

No gold medals are awaiting the more than 15,000 security officers working at the Winter Olympics, which open Friday in Salt Lake City. The workers will receive no endorsements, no national feel-good media tours and absolutely no safety net.
With the world's attention fixed on Salt Lake City and the threat of terrorism a daily reality, Olympics organizers and a litany of law enforcement groups have assembled a $320 million security operation designed to make the Games the safest public event ever.
"We are ready, without a doubt," said David Tubbs, executive director of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, an umbrella security group involving more than five dozen organizations ranging from police in several Utah cities to the U.S. Secret Service. "We have to be prepared for the smallest hiccup to the most major crisis, and there is no room for failure. Right now, if someone even sprains an ankle around here, it's Olympics-related."
The Olympics have long been a magnet for terrorism and political statements. The 11 Israeli athletes assassinated at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and the bomb explosion at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta serve as stark reminders of the danger inherent in the world's largest sporting event. That danger was heightened considerably after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
As a result, the scene in Utah will resemble the one for Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday in New Orleans, minus much of the Big Easy's over-the-top party atmosphere. Like the football championship, every Olympic venue will be equipped with metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, no-fly zones, rifle-toting soldiers, undercover police, surveillance cameras and dozens of other security initiatives. Computerized facial imaging linked to databases of known criminals, introduced at last year's Super Bowl, also will be used.
And like the Super Bowl, the Olympics have been classified as a national special security event, the 13th to receive the high-level federal designation.
But instead of a one-day event in a concentrated downtown area of one city, the Olympics span 17 days over much of Utah's mountainous northern half. President Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney will be in attendance.
"This is a very significant effort, and we have no choice [but to respond accordingly]," said Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt. "This is the first time the world has gathered since September 11 to heal and demonstrate our commitment to move forward."
That commitment leads to both mounting expenses and growing concerns about an overly heavy security presence. Olympics organizers say they have the latter concern in hand. Few fans at the Super Bowl expressed serious objection to the security there, even with waits to enter the Louisiana Superdome exceeding an hour. Many of the security measures are familiar to those who use airports.
"We've been very clear for a very long time that people will need to leave early to get to the venues, to allow plenty of extra time in all their travel," Mr. Tubbs said. "The message, I think, is out there."
The dollars, however, are another story. The security budget for Salt Lake City is higher than for any Olympics in history, even the much-larger Summer Games, and 13 times the outlay for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., the last Winter Olympics in the United States. More than a third of the cost will be borne by taxpayers.
"I don't know how they're spending so much," International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound has said.
While a debate continues over whether the security presence in Utah is too heavy some early-arriving athletes have likened it to prison there is little doubt the $320 million has purchased an operation with numerous checks and balances to ward off potential threats.
"What we've seen is an unprecedented amount of depth in the security operation," said Barry Horvitz, a Houston-based weapons and hazardous-materials specialist working this week in Salt Lake City. "There are quite a lot of backstops."
On the other side is the realization that all the planning and spending cannot guarantee a safe Olympics.
"There are no guarantees in the world of counterterrorism," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee.
The Olympics security plan is five years in the making and has received little in the way of significant changes after September 11. Spending was increased by nearly $100 million, and thousands of extra officers were added, but the additions only magnified the security plan rather than altered it, officials said. Attorney General John Ashcroft requested and received about 50 additional Immigration and Naturalization Service officers to help with the effort. Mr. Ashcroft, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and FBI officials all have signed off publicly on the security plans. Mr. Ashcroft's office last week called the security effort "a state-of-the-art operation."
"It was really an enhancement post-September 11 of an already established strategy," Mr. Tubbs said. "The structure is in place, and we're raring to go."


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