By Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Spectators at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta won't see sharpshooters crouched on roofs, tanks parked in the streets, or military troops brandishing semi-automatic weapons. But behind the scenes of the Centennial Games, the city will be as fortified as if it were preparing for an impending invasion.
Security at the Olympics has been a priority of both local and federal officials since Atlanta was awarded the event in 1990. With 2 million expected visitors, 40 heads of state, and more than 11,000 athletes - twice as many as the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles - these Olympics will be the largest international sporting event ever, posing a security challenge like no other.
That challenge has been the focus of heightened attention given the rise of major terrorist incidents in the United States: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the blast in Oklahoma City last year, which killed 168 people.
Just last week, two militia members near Macon, Ga., were arrested on charges of conspiracy and possession of unregistered explosives - pipe bombs. Though authorities deny any connection to the Olympics, the incident was close enough to Atlanta to renew concerns about radical groups, both here and abroad, that might target the city.
"Any time you have a major event like the Olympics there is a potential for terrorism," says Bill Rathburn, director of security for the Atlanta Games. "We have no information to indicate a specific threat, and we don't expect any major problems, but we're certainly prepared should anything like that occur."
Because of its size, the Atlanta Olympics will be one of the most security-conscious ever. Tens of thousands of security personnel, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the National Guard, will be deployed to deal with everything from pickpocketers to international terrorists. Officials won't divulge the cost of the mammoth operation other than to say it will total in the hundreds of millions of dollars for all the agencies involved.
For the average spectator, Atlanta won't look like a garrison, though visitors will have to walk through metal detectors and have their bags checked at venues - typical at other Olympics. Law enforcement will also be visible throughout the city in an effort to deter and prevent problems.
But behind the scenes, security takes on more James Bond-like characteristics. Sophisticated command and control centers will be located at each venue, and every law-enforcement agency will have its own center.
Federal and state agencies are staging secret drills that deal with simulated terrorist attacks ranging from a hijacked jet to the use of biological weapons. …