Ashcroft surveys Olympic security plan involving 60 agencies, $300 million

Friday, January 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The Olympic security force is a new breed of law enforcement that will serve as a model for thwarting terrorism, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.

Ashcroft said he is in Salt Lake for several days of ``fine tuning'' and looking for blind spots in the Olympic security plan, an effort that involves more than 60 different agencies and about $300 million.

``Frankly, I intend to be very thorough,'' Ashcroft said. ``I believe this is among the most important security concerns we have.''

``Our recent history has taught us we need to work together,'' he said. ``We don't have the luxury of not cooperating.''

The cooperation and integration of local, state and federal law enforcement leading to the Feb. 8-24 Winter Games is unprecedented, Ashcroft said. ``What is happening here has never happened anywhere before.''

The Olympic security effort will serve as a model for protecting future events from terrorism, he said.

The attorney general said he doesn't know if there have been any threats directed specifically at the Olympics, but he said the resources are in place to follow up any leads.

He said the Bush administration policy is to publicize credible threats for the sake of safety _ even if the threats don't materialize.

Ashcroft said he thinks the games will be safe.

``I look forward to the time people will look back at the Salt Lake City Olympics and say, 'What a wonderful time that was.'''

For some, however, these Olympics may be tainted by the scandal in which bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson were indicted for bribery in their effort to win the games for Salt Lake.

Those charges have now been thrown out by a federal judge. Ashcroft refused to comment on his commitment to pursuing the case. Prosecutors have until Wednesday to decide whether to push an appeal.

Meanwhile, Ashcroft will be touring Olympic venues and interviewing security leaders.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and officials from the U.S. Army, FBI, Secret Service and other agencies have all visited Olympic venues and said they are confident security planners have done everything conceivable to protect the games.

``I want to make sure to the extent possible that we close any gaps ... eliminate cracks,'' Ashcroft said.