Massive attempt to guard Atlanta still isn't enough Fear of terrorism resulted in an army of security workers

July 28, 1996|By NEWSDAY

It is an unprecedented peacetime security effort -- 30,000 law enforcement officers descended on Atlanta to protect the public and athletes from terrorists. The cost is estimated at $303 million.

But it was not enough to block a bomber from spoiling the Atlanta Olympic Games.

Officials have been wary of possible violence at Olympic games since 1972, when Palestinian terrorists attacked and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich, Germany.

Even before the downing of TWA Flight 800 on July 17, the fear of terrorism has been higher than ever this year.

As a result of the perceived threat of violence, officials had marshaled an army of security workers in Atlanta.

Spectators at Olympic events have been forced to go through metal detectors and have their bags subjected to weapons checks.

Access to the Olympic village, where athletes stay, is tightly controlled.

But officials had decided to keep some places free of metal detectors and handbag checks, places where the public could roam unfettered.

One of them was Atlanta's modern subway system, where the sheer volume of riders would make such security checks impractical. Another was the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, the site of the bombing.

Centennial Olympic Park, until recently an area of desolate parking lots and abandoned buildings near the center of downtown, is a giant street fair of free music, fountains, statues, corporate displays and vendors.

Even those who did not have an Olympic ticket could celebrate the Olympic experience by going to the park. Chelsea Clinton had explored the park this week, collecting Olympic pins from different countries.

"It becomes, in a free society, a trade-off as to how tough we restrict access," said Woody Johnson, the FBI's Atlanta special agent in charge, at a news briefing yesterday.

"It's a tough situation. We've taken measures we felt at the time were adequate."

The Atlanta security effort was being reviewed yesterday, Johnson said. "We are going to re-evaluate as a group, in conjunction with the Olympic Committee, where we are in the venues and whether we need to increase security in the park when it reopens."

It was unclear when that would be.

There were already indications that security had been intensified beyond the already high levels. National Guardsmen were more visible as they brandished their automatic weapons while standing sentry at Lake Lanier, the rowing venue 55 miles outside the city.

At the Olympic Village, athletes said that visitors were no longer allowed.

"The village security is pretty good so I don't think much will change except that we can no longer have visitors come in," said Tracey Fuchs, a field hockey player from Centereach, N.Y. "No one outside is allowed in."

In sheer size and cost, organizers have gone to unprecedented lengths to try to prevent such a terrorist act in Atlanta.

The security force includes personnel from federal, state and local agencies, soldiers and private security guards. Even prison guards have been borrowed from Georgia's corrections system to work security in Atlanta.

The combined security budget of the games is $303 million, with $227 million of that paid by the federal government.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent 200 of its 1,959 agents to Atlanta.

The Drug Enforcement Administration sent 300 of its 2,813 agents.

The FBI provided 900 of its 10,000 agents.

Air space in a circle around the Olympic competitions has been restricted, with an Atlanta police blimp monitoring air traffic in the area.

Federal law enforcement agents had said militia groups that have sprung up all over the country had been exhibiting paranoia toward the Olympics, which the groups view as an international incursion on U.S. soil.

In April, federal agents broke up a militia bomb-making ring in rural Georgia and downplayed reports that the group had planned to bomb the Olympics.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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