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Olympics Security Challenged

By Stephen Wilson
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, July 27, 1996; 7:49 a.m. EDT

ATLANTA (AP) -- The biggest peacetime security operation in U.S. history could not prevent terrorism from striking at the heart of the Atlanta Olympics.

The federal government spent $227 million to guard the Centennial Games. About 30,000 police, military and private guards, as well as an array of high-tech surveillance equipment, were deployed.

``The safest place on this wonderful planet will be Atlanta, Ga., during the time of our games,'' Atlanta organizing chief Billy Payne had said repeatedly.

But all the elaborate measures could not prevent the bomb blast early Saturday in Centennial Park, the main gathering spot of the games.

``We will consider it an act of terrorism until information should arrive to the contrary,'' FBI Special Agent Woody Johnson said.

The park is located about a mile from the athletes' village and on the doorstep of several arenas used for the games.

``It's horrible -- the worst fears ... something we can't control,'' Bob Brennan, spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said. ``I'm stunned.''

Payne said this morning that he was satisfied security measures at the Games were adequate.

``We have implemented ... as everybody has experienced, very tight security measures at the venues,'' Payne said in an interview on NBC's ``Today'' show. ``We, of course, constantly review them in the face of changing circumstances but they are and will continue to be safe.''

Security has been a major concern for the Olympics ever since the 1972 Munich massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed following an attack by Palestinian terrorists.

In the days before the Atlanta Games, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch said the threat of terrorism was his biggest worry.

``The main concern is security,'' he said. ``Today the risk of terrorism is higher than before. Today you have some people ready to die for religious or political ideas. It makes the fight against terrorism much more difficult.''

The size and scope of the Atlanta Games -- the largest in history with 11,000 athletes from 197 countries -- provided a huge security challenge.

Security concerns were already heightened when TWA Flight 800 exploded off the Long Island coast just two days before the July 19 opening ceremony.

Cracks in the security system were exposed when a man carrying a loaded handgun sneaked into Olympic Stadium before the opening ceremony. The man, who was dressed as a security guard, was arrested and released after police determined he posed no threat.

Bill Rathburn, ACOG's security chief, admitted at the time that the city's vaunted protective measures had failed.

``I certainly wouldn't sit here and say this is a good example of the success of our security program,'' he said.

Security dangers were underscored in recent years by a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway and bombings of the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City federal building and a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia.

In April, members of a militia group were arrested in central Georgia and accused of conspiring to stockpile bombs for a ``war'' with the government. Although initial reports of a plot to disrupt the Olympics were discounted, the raid illustrated that such elements lurk not far from Atlanta.

After the TWA explosion, IOC officials expressed confidence in Atlanta's security measures.

``Security is a top priority at every Olympic Games, whenever and wherever they are held,'' IOC director general Francois Carrard said. ``We are totally confident that all necessary measures have been taken. We are totally confident we are in the best possible hands in terms of security.''

Carrard said the TWA disaster should not create a climate of fear or cast a pall over the games.

``The Olympic movement through 100 years of existence has been accustomed to living in the world as it is,'' he said. ``These days, the world is far from a happy world, with dramas, accidents and terrorism.''

© Copyright 1996 The Associated Press

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