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Terror prep may be LA’s biggest card in campaign for ’24 Olympics - VIDEO: Los Angeles dubs itself 'northern capital of Latin America'

Los Angeles’ 2024 Summer Olympics bid has a lot going for it – ready-made venues and hotels, countless tourist attractions and a massive media market that guarantees top-notch coverage and a huge international audience.

But the ability to provide security against terror attacks may be LA's best card to play.

“Los Angeles has a rich and successful history of routinely hosting big events,” Raymond Mey, president of Security Consultants International, and a former FBI official who headed the bureau’s security operation at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games. “The templates used around the world to handle public safety emerged out of Los Angeles.”

"Europe is fairly wide open with respect to travel, making the job of counter terror components much harder.”

- Ron Hosko, former FBI assistant director

Experts have pinned LA and Paris as the two most viable contenders to host the games nine years from now, with the list rounded out by three other European finalists – Rome, Budapest and Hamburg.  Gauging the terror threat in 2024 is nearly impossible, but with the bid slated to be awarded in early 2017, confidence the games can be safeguarded is critical.

“Digital security, health security, infrastructure and personal safety should all be taken into consideration,” said Karen Graham, of risk management firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. “L.A is a leading city when it comes to digital security, which is now considered a catastrophic exposure.”

Officials involved with the Paris bid did not respond to a request for comment. But high-profile terror incidents there, including last year’s attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, could raise concerns, according to experts.

“Europe is fairly wide open with respect to travel, making the job of counter terror components much harder,” said Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former assistant director of the FBI. “And ISIS is a game-changer all around. Proximity and populations pose real and current risks.”

Simply putting together and submitting a bid can cost as much as $100 million, with no guarantee of success. The final bid from LA is expected to emphasize existing venues such as the Staples Center, offer upgrades to them, and propose lucrative sponsorship deals. But no component trumps security.

Boston, which bowed out of the initial competition to be the U.S. nominee for the 2024 Games, contemplated buying a $250 million insurance policy against terrorist attack, at a cost of up to $2.5 million, according to Michael Barry, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Neither representatives for the LA bid committee nor the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti responded to requests for comment. On its website, the committee pledges to develop a detailed and realistic plan fiscal plan, although it does not give specifics on security.

Recent Olympic Games have seen host countries spend billions on security alone. Of the approximate $51 billion Russia spent on the Sochi Games, an estimated $2 billion was devoted to security to ensure "the safest Olympics in history." Russia established a “ring of steel” area some 60 miles long and 25 miles wide with 100,000 law enforcement authorities inside and checkpoints at all roads in.

London spent roughly $1.6 billion of its $14.5 billion budget for the 2012 games on security and Beijing spent a whopping $6.5 billion on security elements for the 2008 games.

Even billion-dollar budgets may not be enough to ensure terrorists don’t pull off an attack, said former British M16 intelligence chief Sir John Sawers, who oversaw security at the London Games.

"We were pretty confident that the London Olympics would be terrorism-free. And thanks to a lot of hard work, it was," Sawers said in a recent interview. "I don't think you could be quite so confident now if the London Olympics were in 2016, for example."

Historically, the Olympics and the international stage they provide have proven tempting targets for terrorists.  

  • Two weeks before the start of last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, the United States Olympic team and at least five other national delegations received terror threats even as Russian security forces were pursuing five suspected terrorists involved a torch relay attack plot.
  • During the 2008 Games in Beijing, a knife-wielding assailant murdered an American businessman and injured his wife and their tour guide near the Olympic stadium, and two people died after a bomb exploded at a building near the city.
  • Eric Rudolph detonated a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta Games – injuring more than 100 people and killing two.
  • In the most infamous of Olympic attacks, at the 1972 Games in Munich, eight Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli athletes and took nine others hostage before detonating a bomb that killed the hostages, a German policeman and five of the terrorists.

Screening and metal detectors at key events are obvious precautions, but LA also has the advantage of close coordination of local, state and federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities, said Mey. The increased cooperation followed the attack on the 1996 Games as well as the 9/11 attacks.

“Back then the [Olympic] organization had more control over security; there was a strong division between local, state and federal authorities,” Mey said. “Now it is a much more unified effort,”

A representative for the International Olympic Committee told the security issue is addressed in the “Host City Election Candidature Questionnaire,” which mandates that “cities are to demonstrate that they have or can reasonably develop a safe and secure environment to manage Games and background security/safety risks.”

The LA bid comes as many cities and countries are questioning whether hosting the hyped-up Games is worth it, with critics charging that the process usually entails massive over-building with little evidence of long-term economic benefits. But among the cities vying for the Games, LA could be best suited to protect participants and spectators alike.

“LA authorities have to deal with all sorts of nonsense of a daily basis. They are constantly being challenged,” Mey said. “With an event like this you can’t plug up every single hole and L.A would have to step it up, but at the same time, the city certainly isn’t starting from zero.”

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