Nevada's U.S. attorney, Daniel Bogden, in a show of dissent from Detroit colleagues and solidarity with local casino and law enforcement officials, on Wednesday assailed a leaked internal memo by a Detroit prosecutor that implied Las Vegas authorities withheld or ignored information about a terrorist threat to try to avoid scaring off potential visitors.
Bogden's statement capped a day in which city leaders went on the offensive to assert that the gambling mecca is safe after two days of news reports that implied officials would give priority to tourism over terrorism.
"Any implication that a federal prosecutor in Las Vegas expressed or implied that the mayor of Las Vegas, the sheriff or any other public official was concerned that the release of information pertaining to a videotape used in the Detroit terrorism trial would negatively affect the economy or tourism industry is not true," Bogden said in a written statement. "Also untrue is any implication or allegation that an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit pleaded with an assistant U.S. attorney in Las Vegas to take the video footage seriously."
The dispute grew out of internal memos obtained by the Associated Press in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett of Detroit said the FBI in Las Vegas and hotel officials reacted without interest to a Detroit FBI agent's efforts last year to show them al Qaeda surveillance videotapes featuring images of Las Vegas hotels. The videotapes, one seized in Detroit and the other in Madrid, contained images of the MGM Grand, Excalibur and New York-New York resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. One tape also contained utterances referring to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Other sites featured on the tapes included Disneyland and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Corbett's memos allege that Detroit FBI agent Paul George could get just two local police officers to appear at a screening of the tapes and that casino officials did not show up because they feared liability in the event of an attack. The allegations were reiterated to the Associated Press by another assistant U.S. attorney, Richard Convertino, who led the successful prosecution of a Detroit terrorism cell but is embroiled in a controversy over whether he withheld evidence from the defense.
In addition to Bogden's statement, Las Vegas FBI agent David Nanz on Wednesday derided Convertino as a "disgruntled employee" and insisted that the reason local authorities declined to view the videotapes was because "everyone had already seen them."
Nanz also contended that several agents attended George's screening and that, far from treating him dismissively, officers escorted George on the Strip as he examined the hotels.
The FBI did not issue a public warning about the videotapes because they did not amount to a specific threat, Nanz said.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who was alleged by Convertino to have sought to play down the videos to preserve the city's economy, was particularly outraged.
"This comes from some disgruntled prosecutor, who is under siege for maybe having blown the convictions he got, trying to make me and my city the scapegoat," Goodman said. "He's full of crap, and now [Bogden's statements] show that he's full of crap."
Meanwhile, the resort community contended that Las Vegas is no more of a terrorism target than any other tourist destination.
"There are not now, nor ever have been, any specific, credible threats against Las Vegas," said Rossi Ralenkotter, executive director of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "We want the world to know if we have information of a specific and credible threat, we'd share it with the public, even if people decided to stay home."