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. …