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Testimony Given at a Competition, Foreign Commerce, and Infrastructure Hearing:
Lessons Learned from Security at Past Olympic Games
Tuesday, May 4 2004 - 2:30 PM - SR - 253

The Testimony of The Honorable Mitt Romney
Governor, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts


Chairman Smith, Senator Dorgan, Members of the Committee,

Thank you for inviting me to talk with you today about the unique security and public safety experience we had in Salt Lake as we prepared for and hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. It’s an practice for the management of each Olympics to pass on to succeeding Games their “lessons learned” – both successes and mistakes. Although security and safety planning and implementation varies greatly from country to country depending on the structure of law enforcement, there are operational lessons that we learned in Salt Lake from those who came before us and there are pragmatic lessons that we have endeavored to pass on to those who come after. I appreciate the opportunity to share some of those with you today.

I am going to limit my comments today to a number of broad principles that were critical to our security planning and implementation. Mark Camillo, who led the federal public safety planning effort in his role as lead for the US Secret Service and can more appropriately address the operational aspects of the Salt Lake security and public safety plan.

First, a quick review of primary lessons we incorporated into our planning in Salt Lake from the Games that came before us. There have been several extremely thorough reports written on the terrorist attack at the Munich Games, each of which helped inform our approach to Olympic security. The lack of basic security measures and cooperation between the Organizing Committee and law enforcement was stunning by today’s standards. This allowed the terrorists easy access to their targets at the Olympic Village and meant that, once the hostages were taken, there was no set crisis-management procedure to fall back on. In part due to the lack of planning for a security crisis, the person who negotiated with the terrorists, at their request, was the head of the organizing committee – my counterpart. For the first critical communications with the terrorists, an untrained chief executive negotiated for the lives of athletes. Today, it seems incomprehensible that this ever happened. Although there were many hard lessons learned from the tragedy of Munich, and the repercussions of that attack are felt to this day, there are two I want to focus on here.

First, communication and coordination between law enforcement and the organizing committee are essential. Although it is often difficult to maintain a true public/private partnership – particularly between law enforcement and the private sector – when you are securing the Olympics Games, it is critical. The relationship must be seamless and the two must work as one team – practicing together, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and communicating constantly.

In Salt Lake, the organizing committee worked hand-in-glove with federal, state and local public safety from day one. The teams that designed the venues, laid out locations of everything from tickets booths to parking lots to seats and trailers met regularly with law enforcement and took their input every step of the way. Our goal was to design security into our Games, instead of just putting a security overlay on the venues when they were done. Putting together a public safety plan that could anticipate and prevent attacks at ten different venues, the Village, Opening and Closing Ceremonies and our downtown Olympic Square was a painstakingly detailed effort. It required thinking through potential terrorist scenarios and devising workable procedures to prevent them in all types of weather and crowd conditions. Finally, these procedures had to be coordinated with all the other Games plans. After all, it’s easy to secure a venue if you simply shut down the roads – but then how do we get the people in, particularly when vehicles are the most commonly used terrorist weapon? Transportation and public safety have to work hand-in-glove – and many times there are no easy solutions. There are always concerns about securing the athletes in transit, and concerns about limiting vehicle access to any Olympic venue. Every road closure, every decision about which route buses would take, where the athletes would be dropped off and where the spectators would park and ride was made in close consultation with law enforcement. During the Games, a video feed from our transportation center of all the major roads and interstates fed directly into the Public Safety Command Center – and law enforcement sat side-by-side with the transportation operators to ensure that response and monitoring were smooth.

We faced many barriers in achieving this level of integration and coordination between law enforcement and the private sector, primarily because we have too many unnecessary firewalls that prevent real coordination between government and private companies. We were fortunate in Salt Lake that all the senior participants from Secret Service, FBI, FEMA and DoD were willing to break new ground and take the risk of letting the organizing committee into the day-to-day planning. That effort paid off and the seamlessness of our coordination was one of our greatest successes in Salt Lake.

The second lesson we took to heart from Munich was to take every precaution when securing locations where large numbers of athletes would gather – especially the Olympic Village. I won’t detail all the steps we took in securing the Village. However, our deterrents included double-fencing the perimeter, judicious use of cameras, motion detectors, screening people and goods through magnetometers twice before letting them in, and an inner, even more secure location that only the athletes could access. High-threat delegations, such as the Israelis, were given the most secure locations within the village and were allowed to bring their own security. Drills were run repeatedly on how to deal with an attack on the village – any scenario that can be dreamed up was planned for and rehearsed. Again, securing the Village was a joint project from day one between law enforcement and the organizing committee.

One of the major lessons we learned from the Los Angeles Games was the need to do background checks on all employees and volunteers. This can be quite difficult unless the process is begun well in advance. Those who were in Los Angeles told us that, because many background checks weren’t completed before the Games began, convicted felons were holding critical posts – even security posts-- at Games time. I heard from the public safety leadership in LA that they had more problems during their Games with crimes committed by volunteers and employees who turned out to have records than they did from any other source. So, we started the screening process early and anyone who didn’t pass a background check couldn’t work or volunteer for our Games. That meant that we had to have over 40,000 background checks performed – and for those who would have Olympic Village access, the check was quite intensive.

From Nagano, we learned a lesson that became even more valuable to us after 9/11. You may remember that the flu hit that region of Japan during the Nagano Games, and had a devastating impact on both the athletes and those attending the Games. Nagano was a relatively small geographic area, with tens of thousands of people from all over the world tightly gathered for several weeks – with bad weather on top of it. We learned how critical it is to put in place a public health operation that can immediately spot an outbreak and move to contain it. In a confined geographic area, sickness can spread like wildfire. Working with CDC, FEMA, Department of Energy, and DoD, Utah and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) prepared a state-of-the-art public health monitoring and response plan and created the in-state capability to rapidly analyze biological and chemical samples. We received constant reports not only from Olympic areas, but non-Olympic locations as well. We also had environmental monitors that tested the air in key locations. Our biggest concern may have been a possible biological or chemical terrorist attack, but it was Nagano that brought home to us the importance of quick identification, reaction, containment and treatment in the crowded Olympic environment.

But it was the lessons learned from Atlanta that had the most impact on security and public safety preparations for Salt Lake.

Other witnesses here today will be able to talk in more detail about security and public safety planning in Atlanta. The after-action reports we received from Atlanta, and the lessons that were passed on to us by the public safety community, indicated that many of the problems in Atlanta reflected how slow we were as a nation to begin to recognize that terrorism was becoming a security issue inside the United States. When Atlanta began preparing for the 1996 Games, there had not been a successful foreign terrorist attack on US soil. Then, in 1993, the first World Trade Center bombing happened, and most of us heard of Osama Bin Laden for the first time. Not long thereafter, Timothy McVeigh stunned us all by his brutal attack on innocent people in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, in Japan, terrorists used Sarin gas in the subways – showing how easy it was to wreak havoc and death in what had previously been regarded as a safe urban area. The reports we received indicated that with each new incident, the planners would develop ways to prevent and respond to these types of attacks. However, the planning effort faced an incredible obstacle due to the dozens and dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement and public safety entities involved in Games security and safety – with no clear command and control structure for Games planning. There was relatively clear understanding of who was in charge after an incident occurred – but there was no structure establishing who was in charge of planning for Games safety and preventing a terrorist incident from happening.

And that was the crux of the problem. In the United States, we have a unique public safety structure. It evolved from our desire as a country to make sure that power is always retained at the most local level of government possible and that we never create the all-powerful law enforcement arms that viciously rule in other countries. But, in meeting this admirable goal, we sometimes sacrifice coordination – one of the key “lessons learned” from Munich. In Atlanta, where there were over 50 different public safety agencies – federal, state and local all “in charge” of securing a piece of the Games, the attempt to voluntarily pull everyone together to develop a coordinated plan apparently didn’t work. We were told afterwards that, about a year out from the Games, Vice President Gore came to Atlanta for a security briefing and asked a straight-forward question – “Who’s in charge”. The answer back was “it depends”. Not a good answer. Accurate, but when you are holding the largest peacetime event in history and terrorism has begun to rear its ugly head in your country, you want someone who can tell you that they are responsible for the overall effort. In Atlanta, no one was. So the primary lesson from Atlanta was that coordination among government agencies was just as critical, if not more critical, than coordination between government and the organizing committee.

With one year to go, the federal government began to infuse massive resources into Atlanta – over 14,000 troops were sent in. Federal law enforcement agents came in by the hundreds. They hardened the Olympic Villages, increased security on the athlete transportation system, and put multiple layers of security on most of the sports venues and Opening and Closing Ceremonies. But, the Olympics is more than just sport – it is the gathering of world in celebration of peace and the human spirit at festivals, concerts, art shows and more. And one of the major celebration points, Centennial Olympic Park, became the target of a bomber. Another bitter lesson – sports and the athletes are not the only targets of terrorists – sometimes it can be the celebration itself that becomes the target.

Both of these lessons would have enormous impact on our planning in Salt Lake.

Following Atlanta, the White House decided to create a structure that would clarify who was in charge and make someone accountable for ensuring that a coordinated security and safety plan was put in place. President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 62 which set out a hierarchy for all so-called “National Special Security Events.” It put the U.S. Secret Service in charge of planning and operational security, the FBI in charge of intelligence and the immediate response to a terrorist incident, and FEMA in charge of handling the consequences of an event with mass casualties. Even more important to SLOC, in terms of getting work done on a day-to-day basis, this meant there were just three easily-accessible individualsin charge of making sure that everything came together in their areas of responsibility.

On the state level, Utah also put in place a structure that would produce a coordinated and integrated public safety plan and – just as importantly, put someone in charge. The Utah Olympic Public Safety Command (UOPSC) was created by the state legislature in 1998 with the authority to plan and direct the Olympic security and public safety efforts of various state and local police agencies in a unified way. At Games time, all of the personnel would work as part of a unified Olympic command – under direction of the Olympic Public Safety Commander and not under the command of individual sheriffs and police chiefs.

Both of these structures, the federal NSSE designation and the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, were new and I will admit we faced difficulties over the years as these new reporting relationships were evolved and refined. However, by the beginning of 2001, both structures were working extremely well and most if not all of the problems had been resolved. These structures ensured that our final public safety plan truly was coordinated and integrated at every level – federal, state, local and the organizing committee. One of the greatest lessons that we pass on to future Games is this model for creating a coordinated effort – even in the unique structure of U.S. law enforcement and public safety.

We took the second lesson of Atlanta – that all large gatherings could be the target of terrorist attacks – to heart as well. First, we decided in consultation with the Secret Service that rather than spreading our Olympic celebrations, concerts and medals presentations around the city, we would create one multi-block area which would hold all the events and create a single site to secure. Admittedly, Salt Lake Olympic Square was an enormous site – stretching over eight city blocks. But, it is easier to secure a single perimeter and have limited points of entry for magging and bagging the public than it is to duplicate this effort in multiple sites. And, it allowed us to truly concentrate our resources where they could be most effective.

We revisited this lesson from Atlanta in the weeks after 9/11. In addition to events held by the Organizing Committee, there were many events being held by the State, Salt Lake City, and others – some expected to draw thousands of attendees. Each event was reviewed by the federal government and for those where there was some concern that the event could be an attractive target, the event was either cancelled or a more robust security plan was put in place. We recognized the reality that you can never harden every target – to do that you would literally have to shut down the state. However, we also decided that there was no reason for us to create additional targets by having more events than we could secure appropriately.

Another lesson we learned in Salt Lake that we have passed on to future Games is the importance of having a very clear communications plan – both before and during the Games. Obviously, the media is going to ask questions about the security plan for a Games and, just as obviously, the people answering need to be aware that there answers may be read or heard by those looking to plan an attack. This was initially a problem for us in Salt Lake. We had dozens of local public safety officials involved in planning for the Games, and the media soon learned that they could go to these individuals and often get dramatic or sensational answers to their questions. It was one of my greatest frustrations. Particularly when it was televised on national TV which venues were the safest and what the vulnerabilities were of other venues. The public safety community was unable to reach agreement on how much should be made public and who should talk until just months before the Games. Honestly, the horrible events of September 11 probably did more to convince some of our officials that communications during a crisis should be handled by the leadership of the public safety organization than any of the theoretical conversations we had earlier.

In my opinion, the most important lesson we learned in Salt Lake, and the one that I repeat whenever I get the opportunity, is the critical nature of intelligence in preventing an attack. Most Games focus on two security aspects – preventing an attack by hardening the venues and transportation system and ensuring that the resources are in place to respond to an attack. In Salt Lake, there was also tremendous emphasis put on gathering information from all levels and sources and sharing that information between federal, state and local officials. While I can’t speak in this setting to the different methods employed by the federal, state and local governments to gather intelligence, I can tell you that it was a highly coordinated and aggressive effort. Jurisdictional issues didn’t appear to come into play; instead, each level of government used its people in every way appropriate to gather information – then all levels of government shared in the data once it was analyzed.

Why do I think this was so important? As I said earlier, it is impossible to harden every target – even the Olympic venues. Remember that many of our venues were literally mountains – mountains which could easily receive several feet of snowfall in a night and where the temperatures dropped below zero after dark and the winds could reach storm force. We couldn’t put fencing all over those mountains; cameras and other equipment aren’t reliable in that cold; and there aren’t enough people to stand perimeter duty over hundreds of square miles in the freezing cold twenty-four hours a day. So, the Secret Service designed an effective effort – using the latest technology and surveillance methods and some very hardy agents. But, in the end, our best offense was to know about a possible attack on a venue like that before it happened. Good intelligence, effectively shared and utilized, was critical.

The final lesson learned from Salt Lake that I want to focus on is the importance of putting the security and safety team in place as far out as possible, and then exercise, exercise, exercise. In Salt Lake, we had our final team from the Secret Service, FBI, FEMA, DOD and SLOC in place over a year out. This team had to manage as one unit during the Games, and they spent over a year meeting and talking daily until working together became second nature. That broke down many of the usual barriers to a truly integrated operational effort.

We also held exercise for all levels of personnel involved – from the local cop on the street to the senior management at SLOC. And we didn’t hold one or two exercises – we held dozens. And with each we learned. I remember clearly one of the first I participated in where, instead of letting the venue manager and the law enforcement lead at the venue make the decisions, I ordered the evacuation of the building because of smoke – theoretically sending hundreds of people into an area where a car had just exploded. Lesson learned – let the operational decisions be made by those on the ground. And with each exercise, we all learned – and we fixed the problems we found and then went looking for more. We tell all future Games to start exercising early and to make sure that they conduct their exercises in conjunction with the government agencies that they will be working with during the Games. It’s the only way to make sure that when the real thing starts, you’re ready.

Mr. Chairman, all of these lessons have been passed on to Greece, Turin, and China. In some cases, the problems we addressed are uniquely American – in others, they are applicable to any country hosting an Olympics and trying to ensure that the Games are safe from terrorist attack. I would urge you as you look into security and safety planning for those Games, that you ask the following questions:

n Is there an integrated and coordinated security plan that has been adopted by every entity – public and private – with a role to play in securing the Games? n Is there a clear chain of command for security and safety? n Is there an aggressive intelligence operation and will the information be shared with those on the ground that need to know it? n Have exercises been conducted with all participants? n Has the process for communications during an incident been agreed to? n Have security precautions been put in place for all large gatherings around the time of the Games – and not just the Olympic venues? n Is there a real-time public health monitoring and response plan? Has it been tested? n Have all security precautions been taken at the Olympic venues, in the transportation system, and at the Olympic Village, including background checks of everyone working in the Games?

Clearly, the upcoming Games in Greece will have a different level of coordination and communications challenges from those we faced due to the assistance that is being provided by other countries to the security effort. Therefore, understanding the steps that have been taken to ensure that all security and safety related operations are well-integrated and closely coordinated is all the more important.

I’d like to close with a personal comment. During the three years that I served as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, I was asked many times whether or not it made sense to continue holding the Olympics, considering the increased security risks and the enormous expense of hosting the Games. My answer then, as now, is that it is more important than ever that the Games continue and that the United States play a major role in the continuation of the Olympic movement.

For the athletes, the Olympic Games represent the culmination of years of effort and sacrifice. But for the rest of us, the Olympics are about far more than sport. Sport is merely the stage on which the athletes perform – and in them we see the qualities of the human spirit that inspire us all. The Games reaffirm that, no matter what country or culture, the human spirit can triumph and achieve through hard work, dedication, persistence, loyalty and commitment. In this time when the children of our nation and our world need real heroes, real role-models, the Olympics provides those heroes.

In Salt Lake, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by the federal, state and local governments and SLOC to secure the Games. Literally thousands of people – cops, soldiers, firemen, federal agents, public health workers, and volunteers – put in hundreds of thousands of hours in harsh weather and cold to keep the Games safe. Was that investment worth it? Absolutely. Because the Olympics also carries the dreams we have of a world at peace – the world we are trying to create for our grandchildren and those who come after. It is dream shared by all nations who send their finest to compete in the Olympics. And it is a dream we saw and felt on February 8, 2002 when, in spite of the threat of terrorism, every nation invited to our Games still sent their Olympic team and the athletes of the world marched together into opening ceremonies. Now, more than ever, the Olympic athletes are lights of inspiration and hope in our world – we cannot let terrorists put out that light.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have.