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Ashcroft Visits Winter Olympics Site

January 19, 2002|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SALT LAKE CITY — Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft visited the site of next month's Winter Olympics on Friday and applauded what he said is an unprecedented level of cooperation among national, state and local law enforcement agencies assigned to keep the Games free of terrorism.

"I expect this to be a safe Olympics," Ashcroft told reporters shortly after receiving separate security briefings from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and law enforcement officials.

"We're not only doing as well as anything that's been done before, but what's happening here has never happened before," he said. "This will set a new standard, a model of [interagency] cooperation and integration."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the federal government has contributed an additional $55 million to the Olympics security budget, increasing it to $300 million--three times the amount spent on security for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Sixty federal, state and local agencies will police the Salt Lake Games.

Ashcroft indicated there have been no threats directed at the 17-day event, which begins Feb. 8.

"If there are credible threats, we will share those with the public, with the view of minimizing the risks," Ashcroft said.

His aides said he will inspect and fine-tune security measures at each of the 11 sports venues spread throughout the Salt Lake City region. He will also visit the various law enforcement command posts.

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

His tour Friday began in a driving snowstorm, leading him to remark on its "champagne powder" qualities before adding, "I'm not sure champagne is that popular here." Utah's population is dominated by Mormons, who generally avoid alcohol.

"People will look back at the Salt Lake Olympics and say what a wonderful time it was," said Ashcroft. "The greatest snow on Earth will become the greatest show on Earth."

The attorney general arrived Thursday night and will leave Tuesday. Verdi White, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said he was glad Ashcroft came to visit.

"It's great for him to see firsthand how we are using the resources that the federal government has provided us," White said. "He's going to see a level of integration and cooperation that we've never before seen in Utah."

Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge also visited earlier this month to express confidence in the safety of the Games. "I believe one of the safest places on the globe from the beginning to the end of February will be Salt Lake City."

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