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Olympic Security Now Even More Important

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Security plans for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, which open five months from now, must be--and will be--reconsidered in the wake of terrorist strikes Tuesday on American soil, government and Olympic officials said.

The Games open Feb. 8, and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt pledged Tuesday that the Olympics “will go forward as planned.” But now, he said, planners must seriously evaluate--in addition to innumerable other scenarios--the prospect of a commercial airliner being hijacked and aimed at Salt Lake during the Games.

“We are going through continual exercises with all the federal agencies and all the military organizations, contemplating every conceivable possibility,” Leavitt said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City. “If this one were not on the list, I’m sure it will be now.”

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Mitt Romney, head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, was in Washington on Tuesday, where he had been due to finish a two-day series of meetings aimed at lobbying Congress for a final $12.7 million needed for Olympic security. He said, “Airspace security planning has been part of the Olympic plans. But I’m sure today’s events will expand the questions and the extent of preparations.”

Security has been a critical component of Games preparation since the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when 11 Israelis--athletes and coaches--were taken hostage in the Olympic Village by Palestinian terrorists and then killed in a firefight at a German airport. During the 1996 Atlanta Games, a bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring 100 others; survivalist Eric Rudolph, charged in the attack, remains a fugitive.

Belgium’s Jacques Rogge, the newly elected president of the International Olympic Committee, has frequently called security “the No. 1 priority for all Games,” and he issued a statement expressing “deepest sympathy” to the families of those killed or wounded Tuesday. Rogge also sent letters of condolence to President Bush, to the U.S. Olympic Committee and to SLOC.

As security experts concede, however, the fact remains that the Games present a terribly attractive target for terrorist action--in large measure because of the obvious, the guarantee of worldwide publicity--and Tuesday’s attacks hold import for the Olympics in Salt Lake, for the Summer Games in 2004 and beyond. New York and Washington are among eight U.S. cities vying for the 2012 Games; Los Angeles is also in the running for 2012.

In recent months, security issues have emerged as a major concern in planning for the 2004 Games, scheduled for Athens. Greece is home to Europe’s most elusive terrorist cell, dubbed 17 November, whose victims since 1975 include four Americans.

Testifying earlier this year on Capitol Hill, CIA Director George Tenet said that the Greek government had to consider the threat of terrorism at the 2004 Games a “major vulnerability.”

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The Greek government reportedly has allocated more than $500million for Olympic security. Tentative plans call for the deployment of thousands of security personnel, including soldiers, at all Olympic sites and related facilities, including airports, seaports and hotels. Thousands of closed-circuit TV cameras will be installed around Athens.

In the United States, Games security requires complicated coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies--as well as hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that need to be cleared through any number of political tangles.

In July, for instance, Congress approved a $60-million appropriation--money the U.S. Secret Service has said it needs to complete its coordination of Olympic security in Salt Lake. The funding had been threatened when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed diverting half of it to the military; McCain has been an outspoken critic of increasing federal spending on the Games. Utah’s Republican senators, Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, blocked McCain’s move.

Much of the $12.7 million Romney is now seeking would reimburse Utah law enforcement agencies for paying overtime to cover the shifts of officers staffing the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command during the 2002 Games.

Even before the attacks, he said SLOC and Utah police agencies had been given “every confidence” the $12.7 million will be forthcoming. Romney said Tuesday afternoon: “Of course the conduct of public safety in this country can never be the same. I look to the federal government to revisit public safety plans for the Games. We will remain fully engaged in that effort, and make it our highest priority.”

Leavitt said Tuesday’s attacks serve as a “sober reminder that there are evil people who do unthinkable things,” adding in a reference to the Games, “We’re working with the world’s best, every federal agency and organizations around the world. But those efforts can only go to minimize, not eliminate, risk.”

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SLOC, meantime, postponed a ceremony long planned for today in Battery Park in Manhattan--near what had been the World Trade Center complex--at which the names of runners and other details of the cross-country torch relay preceding the Games were to have been unveiled. Perhaps next week, Romney said.

“Tears and prayers flood our hearts but not fear,” he said. “As a testament to the courage of the human spirit, and as a world symbol of peace, the Olympics is needed even more today than the day before.”

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