The Olympics Confronts Terrorism

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The Olympics Confronts Terrorism

The Conflict

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, there was fear of additional strikes during the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, scheduled for February 2002. While U.S. and Olympic officials insisted that a comprehensive set of counterterrorist efforts would guarantee the safety of athletes and spectators, they also acknowledged that no event can be 100 percent safe. Given the worldwide attention that the Olympics generate, the site of the Games will continue to be a primary target for any terrorist organization with the means to carry out such an attack.


  • The Olympics symbolize international understanding and cooperation through sportsmanship. Despite the stated goals of the Olympic Movement, however, the games have always been inherently politicized. They were cancelled in 1916 and from 1940-44 due to the World Wars. In 1972 the Games were marred by a deadly attack against Israel's athletes by Palestinian terrorists. In 1996 a bomb allegedly planted by anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph at the Games killed one spectator and injured 111 more.
  • The Olympics suffered two successive boycotts in 1980 (led by the United States in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and in 1984 (led by the Soviet Union). Subsequent site selections for the Games have often provoked outpourings of nationalist sentiment on the part of potential host countries. Pointing to China's poor human rights record, many observers criticized the selection of Beijing for the 2008 Games.


• With the world's focus on the Olympic games every four years, the events are designed to promote international goodwill and understanding. For terrorist groups, however, the games present the chance to declare their presence on the global stage.

The Olympic Games receive a high profile from the media and the international public. While sportsmanship receives the greatest attention, there have been times in the history of the Games where violence has taken center stage. In an arena where cooperation and goodwill are showcased, acts of terror are shocking and tragic. On heightened alert for possible terrorist acts going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in Utah, the Olympic organizers, participants, and audience were ready and willing to share the moment, despite the possibility of violence. While the Salt Lake City Games ended peacefully, the Olympics have been subject to increasingly higher security measures due to past events.

In the weeks before the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, organizers and officials reassured the public that every precaution had been taken to abort terrorist attacks on the event. With a global audience in the billions, the Olympics had in the past presented a high-profile stage for groups attempting to broadcast their platform, and the results were sometimes lethal. In 1972 when Palestinian terrorists abducted Israeli athletes from the Olympic Village in Munich, eleven athletes died, along with one police officer and five of the terrorists. In the wake of an attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, and assaults on American military operations in Saudi Arabia, tensions ran even higher. Would the first Olympics held on American soil in twelve years witness another attack, possibly directed at the United States' dominant presence in world affairs?

With local, state, and federal assistance, Olympic organizers spent about US$110 million on security measures for the 1996 Games. In addition to 1,000 video cameras stationed throughout the competition sites and the Olympic Village, a staff of 2,400 volunteer police officers from around the world was added to a sizable contingent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the U.S. Customs Service. On July 9, 1996, just ten days before the Games opened, John Gordon, a Major with the Atlanta Police Department, confidently predicted to the Emergency Net News Service that "When all is said and done, this city might be the safest place on the planet."

Tragically, Gordon's prediction proved wrong. Around 1:00 AM on July 27, during a concert in Centennial Park, a bomb exploded that killed one spectator, Alice Hawthorne, and injured 111 others. The toll might have been even higher had the package containing the bomb not been discovered by security officer Richard Jewell, who notified an ATF agent and began to clear the area. At first Jewell was hailed as a hero, but in the weeks to come he would be named as the bombing's primary suspect. In the controversy that followed, Jewell was eventually cleared and another suspect, anti-abortion protester Eric Robert Rudolph, was charged with the attack. Six years later, Rudolph remained at-large, and troubling questions regarding security measures at the Games lingered.

Historical Background

Taking their inspiration from the Olympic Games held in Greece from at least 776 BCE to 391 CE, organizers led by Dimitrious Vikelas of Greece (1835-1908) and Pierre de Coubertin of France (1863-1937) established the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. In 1896 the IOC inaugurated the modern era of the games with the Summer Olympiad in Athens. About 300 men participated in 42 events across nine sports; following de Coubertin's insistence that the Olympic movement hold itself apart from material considerations, competition was limited only to amateur athletes. The second Olympic Summer Games, held in Paris in 1900, were opened to women, although their numbers did not exceed one hundred participants until 1924. That year a Winter Olympiad was established; held in the same quadrennial year as the Summer Games until 1992, the Summer and Winter Games subsequently alternated in even-numbered years. By the 1996 Summer Games, 197 nations sent athletes to the event, and the 1998 Winter Games, held in Nagano, Japan, welcomed eighty nations.

Political Controversies

From the start, the modern games embodied the ideals of Olympism, a concept that urged individual athletes to excel in sports while fostering mutual understanding among competitors and their nations. As stated in the U.S. Olympic Committee's volume Olympism: A Basic Guide to the History, Ideals, and Sports of the Olympic Movement, the set of ideals "is a strong moral force that seeks and promotes: Individual well-being; National spirit; [and] International understanding and friendship." The modern Olympics faced the first challenge to these principles in 1916, when the games were canceled in light of World War I (1914-18). Four years later the Central Powers of Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Turkey—named as aggressors in the war—were barred from the revived games in Antwerp. After another period of expansion in the 1920s and 1930s, the games were again canceled in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II (1939-45).

The 1936 Summer and Winter Games—both held in Nazi Germany—perhaps represented the most politicized games in the modern era. In a bid to avoid a boycott of the games, Third Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler temporarily suspended some of the anti-Semitic laws enacted after the Nazi Party's rise to power. With the pageantry of the Nazi regime on full view, however, African American athlete Jesse Owens's success at the games belied the Party's racist platform. Owens began by taking the gold medal in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.3 seconds that tied the world record, one of four gold medals he won in the games. Later Owens would claim that Hitler had refused to congratulate him after his gold-medal performances, and "Hitler's snub" became part of Olympic history; Hitler, however, had not met with any gold medal winners after the opening day and the "snub," while controversial, was not intentional. Another athlete, figure skater Cecilia Colledge of Great Britain, raised protests for another reason, as she greeted spectators with a Nazi salute before her performance. While Colledge insisted that she was simply showing respect for the host nation, the episode demonstrated the intense politicization of the 1936 games.

Terrorist Attacks in 1972

After the suspension of the games in 1940 and 1944, the politicization of the games continued. Following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, a water polo match between the two countries at the Melbourne Games left athletes bloodied. In 1968 two African American athletes, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a Black Power salute on the medal stand; the protest outraged Olympic hero Jesse Owens, and the image became one of the enduring images of the Games. In 1972, however, the use of the Games as a political platform turned deadly when a group of Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli delegation in the Olympic Village in Munich. While the IOC had become accustomed to political turmoil surrounding the Olympics—including a threatened boycott by African nations to protest the inclusion of Rhodesia at the 1972 competition—the event was the first actual terrorist attack at the Games.

Perpetrated by a group of six Palestinians under the name Black September, with the assistance of two Palestinian workers in the Olympic village, the terrorists staged their attack in the early morning hours of September 5, 1972. Eleven hostages were taken, two of whom were killed in the initial fighting. After demanding that 234 Palestinian prisoners in Israel be released—along with infamous leaders of Germany's Baader-Meinhof terrorist group—the terrorists negotiated with the West German Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher for a plane to fly them to an Arab country. At the airfield, however, the German police fired on the group as it attempted to board the plane; all of the hostages and five of the terrorists were killed.

While the scheduled competitions were suspended during the day-long standoff, IOC president Avery Brundage insisted that the Games resume after a memorial service on the morning of September 6. The decision had the support of the IOC governing board and Israeli prime minister Golda Meier, who believed that ending the Games would signal a surrender to the terrorists' actions. Arab delegates, however, refused to attend the memorial service, despite a storm of criticism for their apparent support for the terrorists' deeds. Adding to the tension, as recounted in Allen Guttmann's The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games (1992), Brundage kicked off another controversy by equating the threatened boycott over the Rhodesian affair with the violence of the past day. "Sadly, in this imperfect world, the greater and more important the Olympic Games become, the more they are open to commercial, political, and now criminal pressure," he stated at the memorial service. " … I am sure that the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic Movement."

After the 1972 Games: Politics and Security

The fact that no attack had taken place during an Olympic competitive event was little comfort for the IOC and the local Olympic Committees in charge of arranging security for future games. After 1972, security was a primary consideration in awarding the Games to any host city, a situation that the organizers of the 1976 Montreal Summer Games blamed for enormous cost overruns in hosting the event. Montreal's mayor, Jean Drapeau, had estimated that the Games would cost about $125 million; eventually, the total came to more than $2 billion. Drapeau's critics, however, pointed to corruption and inefficiency within his administration for the inflated costs. Either way, many potential host cities were scared off from submitting bids for future Olympic Games. For the 1984 Summer Olympiad, only one city, Los Angeles, completed the application process.

Stung by the criticism of the IOC's handling of political issues and security measures, Brundage's successor, Anglo-Irishman Michael Morris (better known by his royal title, Lord Killanin), faced one controversy after another during his term as IOC president from 1972-80. At the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976, a flap over Canada's refusal to admit Taiwanese athletes under a Chinese flag in deference to the readmission of the People's Republic of China to the Olympics almost derailed the event. Despite pressure from the IOC the Canadian government refused to back down, even after it was accused of caving in to the communists' demands in order to secure a lucrative grain deal with the country.

Cold War tensions resurfaced again in 1980 when the United States organized a boycott of 56 countries to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. Although the United States, West Germany, and the People's Republic of China refused to attend the Games, 81 other countries participated in the Moscow Games; 16 nations, including Great Britain, France, and Denmark, chose to attend under the Olympic flag instead of their own national banners. Given the intense scrutiny of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, however, there were few concerns over security at the Games. If anything, the KGB's iron grip on Moscow—dissendents were ejected from the city before the Games, all public protests were quickly disbanded, and potentially controversial film footage of the Soviet Union was confiscated by the authorities—set the tone for the event.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games were also marred by a boycott, this time led by the Soviet Union. Angered by the denial of a visa to the designated Soviet Olympic representative to the Games—whom the United States suspected of being a key KGB agent—the Soviets abruptly announced in May 1984 that they would not attend the Games. Only those countries under Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, with the exception of Romania, joined the boycott, however, and the Games proceeded with 139 participating nations. Although the opening torch-lighting ceremony was almost called off because of a bomb threat, the Los Angeles Police Department quickly assured officials that it was a false alarm. From a security standpoint, the rest of the Games were uneventful.

The selection of Seoul, South Korea, as the site of the 1988 Summer Games once again raised the possibility of terrorist attacks, particularly from the country's neighbor, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea. The two countries shared one of the most contentious borders in the world, the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone, where hostile exchanges sometimes occurred. Juan Antonio Samaranch, who took over the IOC presidency in 1980, deftly negotiated with the North Koreans, however, and promised to allow them to host ten individual competitions in four sports during the Games. While the offer fell short of North Korea's demand to act as a co-host, the offer greatly reduced the support of North Korea's position by other communist countries. After Samaranch traveled to the Soviet Union to bolster support for the IOC's position—he had formerly served as Spain's ambassador to the nation—North Korea's boycott was doomed.

While Samaranch expertly managed the tensions between the two Koreas, the IOC president had far less control over the turbulent domestic politics of South Korea. Student protests over the autocratic regime of Chun Doo Hwan turned violent in the spring of 1987; in response, President Chun pleaded with protesters to postpone their demands for democratization until after the Games were concluded. As the protest movement gained momentum through the summer, Chun eventually announced his resignation. His successor quickly arranged for direct presidential elections, and the Games went off without a hitch. Olympic officials proudly noted that the spirit of the Olympic Movement had actually helped to bring democracy to South Korea.

Terror Returns to the Olympics—1996

With the Soviet Union in disarray, the usual Cold War tensions abated for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona and the Winter Games in Albertville, France. The 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, however, witnessed the most destructive terrorist attack—at least in terms of injuries—that the Games had ever suffered. As a result of the Centennial Park bombing, which occurred during a free concert just after 1:00 AM on July 27, 111 spectators were injured and one woman, Alice Hawthorne, was killed. The bomb indirectly claimed another victim when a member of a Turkish television crew suffered a fatal heart attack while fleeing the area.

Even though the scheduled events went forward, the bombing cast a pall over the Atlanta Games. In the aftermath of the attack, security guard Richard Jewell, who first discovered the suspicious package containing the bomb, was named as the primary suspect after the president of Piedmont College, where Jewell had once worked, contacted the FBI to report him as a suspect. When the FBI leaked the name of Richard Jewell as the primary suspect in the bombing, it touched off a media frenzy. The Atlanta Constitution carried the headline "FBI Suspects 'Hero' May Have Planted Bomb" and alleged that Jewell fit the profile of a lone-bomber suspect. The paper also accused him of sharing characteristics with convicted child serial killer Wayne Williams. Soon every other major news organization jumped on the story. In addition to being followed by several FBI agents everywhere they went, Jewell and his mother, Barbara, were tailed by cameras and crews for weeks after the FBI's investigation was launched. It was only in October 1996 that the FBI officially cleared Jewell's name as a suspect in the case.

Two years later, Eric Robert Rudolph, already under indictment for two other bombings, was indicted for the Centennial Park attack as well as another Atlanta bombing at a gay nightclub. Rudolph, claiming to represent the "Army of God," had already gone into hiding before the indictments were issued. Officials believed that Rudolph had gone into the mountains of western North Carolina to escape capture; however, they made few comments about his possible motivation for bombing the Olympic Games. Known as a fervent opponent of abortion, Rudolph had also railed against gays; it seemed likely that his latest terrorist act was a publicity seeking gesture for his political beliefs. Rudolph was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, but there were no reported sightings of him after his January 1998 disappearance.

The FBI's mishandling of the Centennial Park bombing investigation added to the criticism of security efforts at the Atlanta Games. Prior to the event, officials had widely publicized measures to keep Olympic competitive venues safe from harm. Every day before the start of any events, federal officials electronically searched the rowing courses for explosives; at the kayaking and canoeing course, about 300 agents monitored the activity 24 hours a day. Mindful of the 1972 Munich attacks, security at the Olympic Village was the tightest of any venue: only visitors with registered hand prints matching their security badges were allowed to pass into the athletes' compound. For all of the other areas—including the promenade of Centennial Park, a public gathering place of kiosks, concerts, and other attractions—a team of 2,400 volunteer security officers, working with FBI, ATF, and local and state police officials monitored the crowds.

Although the security presence was indeed massive at the Atlanta Games, coordination among the several agencies involved actually handicapped counterterrorist efforts. Instead of naming one agency to coordinate security throughout the Games, there was only a contingency plan to put the FBI in charge "if things hit the fan," as U.S. Attorney Gil Childers, a U.S. Justice Department official, admitted to Emergency Net News in July 1996. Caught off guard when a terrorist event actually took place, the FBI's immediate response was less than reassuring to the public.

Richard Jewell later settled a number of lawsuits against media organizations for a reported $2 million settlement. The Atlanta Constitution, however, insisted that its reporting was fair and accurate and decided to fight Jewell's lawsuit in court. After five years, the case had not yet been settled. Working as a police officer in an unnamed Georgia town, Jewell remained bitter about the experience of being held up as the suspected Olympic bomber. As he told Mike Wallace in an interview on the television news show 60 Minutes II in January 2002, "No one has ever bothered to even say, 'Thank you, Mr. Jewell'… People will never for get my name. People will be ninety years old that were at the Olympic Games and go, 'Do you remember when the bomb went off, that Jewell fellow that they accused of that? Do you remember that?' … It will never end, sir."

Lessons from the Atlanta Games

Organizers of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Summer Games heeded the lessons from the Atlanta Games and coordinated all security measures through one centralized office of the New South Wales Police Service. Officials also hoped that Australia's geographic isolation and immigration control measures would make it easier to screen out potential terrorists before they entered the Olympic sites. These factors had made Australia almost immune from attacks in the past; in the thirty years leading up to the Olympics, only a handful of attacks made the headlines. In a counterterrorist summit held in Australia in December 1995, however, security expert Bruce Hoffman warned Olympic organizers not to get too complacent. He told Emergency Net News that Australia should not "wrap itself in a fatally false blanket of security" because of its geographic isolation and immigration policies. Terrorism, Hoffman warned, is always a threat. Hoffman also predicted that the Olympics would remain an attractive target for terrorists, in part because such attacks usually attained their goal of publicizing a group's platform. "I don't think it's coincidental that a year following the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre that the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] was granted observer status in the United Nations and in 1974 Yasser Arafat was invited to address the General Assembly. That it-self shows that although people were certainly appalled by what occurred in 1972, it was nonetheless a tremendous publicity vehicle."

In the months before the Sydney Games, authorities uncovered two potential terrorist plots directed at the Olympics. Beginning in December 1999 a series of letters was sent to the U.S., Russian, Turkish, British, and Israeli consulates in Australia. The letters demanded $50 million—later raised to $100 million—or else a terrorist team of fifteen agents with guns, chemical weapons, missiles, and explosives would be used against Center-point Tower in Sydney, as well as on incoming passenger planes. In staged negotiations from the Turkish embassy, New South Wales police were able to trace the threats to Mehmet Akin Kayirici, who lived in a suburb of Sydney; Kayirici's thumb-print was also found on the letter to the British consulate. Although Kayirici did not appear to have ties to any known international terrorist group, his actions resulted in an indictment on four charges of sending a letter demanding money with menacing intent and one charge of demanding money with threats of attacking an airplane.

The second terrorist plot appeared far more serious than Kayirici's attempted extortion. In March 2000 New Zealand police investigating a people-smuggling operation uncovered a plot to blow up a nuclear reactor in Sydney during the Games. Four Afghan men with suspected ties to Osama bin Laden were initially arrested for passport fraud and suspicion of people-smuggling, but a search of their home uncovered extensive planning operations for an Olympic assault. In addition to maps of the Sydney area, the group had planned entrance and exit routes to and from the reactor and had conducted its own assessment of police security measures around the site. Because the reactor itself was used only for research, and therefore presented a less devastating target than an operating power plant, officials decided not to close it down during the Games. Fortunately, there were no incidents at the Games themselves, and the enthusiastic and warm crowds made the Sydney Olympics one of the most successful of the modern era.

Preparing for the Salt Lake City Games

While the corruption scandal was an ongoing distraction for the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee (SLOC) and IOC, security concerns were once again foremost in their minds in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. In the wake of the attacks the Winter Games in Salt Lake City were now seen as a primary terrorist target—both as the focus of international attention and as a symbol of the United States' power—and security measures were stepped up on every front. Not only would all of the estimated 3,500 athletes, trainers, and coaches be screened before entering the Olympic Village, but every individual article would also be examined, including food items and personal hygiene products. As Mark Camillo, coordinator of the U.S. Secret Service efforts at the Olympics told a 60 Minutes II interviewer, "Every one of those items will have been looked at to make sure there's nothing embedded or inserted in its packaging that could be harmful."

While the unprecedented security checks at the Olympic Village recalled the 1972 Munich massacre, other measures stemmed directly from the September 11 attacks. Mindful of the air assaults that damaged the Pentagon and brought down the World Trade Center buildings, much of Utah was declared a no-fly zone for the duration of the games, while air activity was banned at Salt Lake City's airport during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games. Throughout the Olympics, all flights except commercial airliners and cargo airlines were banned outright from the airport.

To prevent a car bomb from disrupting the Games, parking for the predicted 80,000 daily spectators was also limited to a giant lot about ten miles away from the competition sites. And in light of the ongoing anthrax scares, special teams of agents studied possible methods of transmitting weapons of biological mass destruction at all of the Olympic venues. Governor Mike Leavitt struck a hopeful note about the possibility of preventing such an attack, telling the Chicago Tribune, "Utah has a long experience with preparation for biological warfare, or elements related to that." Mitt Romney, head of the SLOC added, "I'm sure there are a lot of Utahans saying, 'I wish right now the Games weren't on their way here,' but they are, so we will do a good job hosting them."

In addition to spending more than $300 million on security for the Salt Lake City Games—about three times the amount laid out for the Atlanta Olympics—officials hoped that the organization of security efforts had learned from past mistakes. Under Presidential Directive 62, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1998, the U.S. Secret Service was designated as the lead federal agency for Olympic security planning, with the FBI named as the intelligence unit and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) put in charge of immediate crisis management. Each of these agencies in turn was integrated into the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command (UOPSC). With an estimated 12,000-plus security officers—ranging from U.S. military personnel to FBI, ATF, and FEMA agents to the Utah National Guard—designated for the Olympic Games, UOPSC's challenges were not insignificant. Although there would be more security officers than athletes in Salt Lake City, such a fact did not deter the Centennial Park bomber in 1996. Still, the SLOC hoped that all of its planning would not create a lock-down atmosphere at the Games. As Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson told the Los Angeles Times, "What people will find is a very appropriate security presence. It's not going to be oppressive or overwhelming, but it will be conspicuous in a sense that most people would expect or even desire."

In the weeks before the Games, SLOC and UOPSC officials put their security measures on full public display. The public was also reassured by Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge, who reviewed security plans and announced to the Los Angeles Times, "I believe one of the safest places on the globe from the beginning to the end of February will be Salt Lake City" (January 11, 2002). Perhaps reminded that similar comments had been made on the eve of the Atlanta Games, however, Ridge added, "There's no guarantee it is a fail-safe system." IOC officials once again restated the board's policy of carrying on with the Olympics despite possible terrorist threats. Congratulating the SLOC for putting together the most comprehensive security effort in the Games' history, it reiterated in a statement in October 2001 that "The Games will go on and should go on… We fully believe that the Olympic Winter Games, the celebration of the athletic pursuits and achievements of the world's youth, should be an answer to violence, not a victim to it."

Recent History and the Future

While the IOC was impressed with the efforts to secure the safety of the Salt Lake City Olympics, the 2004 Summer Games in Athens were a nagging concern for officials. Bitter over the awarding of the Centennial 1996 Games to Atlanta, Greece had lobbied heavily to host the 2004 Games; once the award was made, however, the Greek government failed to swing into action in preparation for the event. A series of political fiascoes followed, with the Socialist government of Premier Costas Simitis receiving much of the blame. In September 2001, new IOC president Jacques Rogge made an unexpected visit to Greece to review the progress toward the Athens Games and reportedly left with a long list of concerns about the event. Even more troubling was the Greek government's apparent unwillingness to allay security worries over its inability to suppress the domestic terrorist group 17 November, which had operated in Greece for almost thirty years.

The terrorist group 17 November took its name from the day in 1973 when the Greek government ordered a crackdown on student protests. In response, the group—claiming an anti-capitalist, anti-American, and super-nationalist platform—assassinated Richard Welch, an employee at the U.S. embassy in Athens, in 1975. In the next ten years the group carried out five more attacks. Between 1975 and 1985, 17 November killed a total of eight people in its assassination plots. Acting with apparent impunity from the Greek government, which to date has never identified even a single member of 17 November, the group stepped up its terrorist activities in 1985 with a campaign of bombings and assassinations. In December 1990 the group launched a rocket at the offices of the European Community in Athens; another rocket attack on the office of the Greek Finance Minister in Athens killed a bystander. 17 November stepped up its attacks during the Gulf War (1991) and is believed to have killed one U.S. Army sergeant in March 1991 in addition to attacking the Turkish embassy later that year.

Western observers have long contended that 17 November has strong ties to the Greek government, which is too embarrassed to conduct an effective campaign against it for fear of scandal. With the 2004 Olympics set for Athens, however, international pressure intensified for the Greek government to initiate comprehensive counterterrorist measures, including the elimination of 17 November. While the government officially denied that it had ties to 17 November, the IOC reportedly stepped up pressure in the wake of President Rogge's visit in late 2001 to bring in international counterterrorist forces to deal with the group.

In contrast to the lackluster efforts of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, the Summer Olympics planned for Beijing in 2008 recalled the KGB-dominated Games of Moscow in 1980. With open dissent against the ruling Chinese Communist Party outlawed, domestic surveillance—and according to international rights groups, outright repression—was the norm in Chinese society, even before the arrival of the Olympic Games. Because of China's dismal human rights record, some observers were outraged that the IOC awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing, an announcement that made headlines on July 13, 2001. "The IOC didn't even try to get guarantees on human rights," complained Sidney Jones, director of Asia Human Rights Watch, in comments to the Washington Post. "If abuses take place as preparations for the Games proceed, it won't be just the Chinese authorities who will look bad; the IOC and the corporate sponsors will be complicit," Jones warned. Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the other hand, took a more encouraging view of the decision, telling the Washington Post, "I do think it provides an opportunity for China over the years to move in the direction that will create a positive environment where people will go and see more progress in China, more openness in China, more willingness to tolerate dissent." He added, "I hope China takes advantage of that opportunity."

Others rejected outright the IOC's Seoul analogy—that hosting the Olympic Games could serve as a democratizing force, as it had been in South Korea—in justifying its decision to hold the Games in Beijing. As Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote the day after the announcement, "Do you really think that somehow the leaders of China care so much about being liked that they will improve their record on human rights if we come play ball with them? Not likely" (July 14, 2001). Describing the IOC as a "profiteering, junketeering cartel" in light of its ongoing bribery and corruption scandals, Jenkins went on to revive one of the sharpest criticisms of the group: that in awarding the Games to a dictatorship, the IOC was actually rewarding a repressive regime. Jenkins ignored the secondary effect of the Seoul Olympics, however, which had also helped to reduce international tensions between South Korea and its main adversary, North Korea. In bringing North Korea into negotiations about the possibility of hosting some Olympic events, the dictatorship had been drawn into the international arena in a meaningful way for the first time in generations. While the country ended up boycotting the Games and remained relatively isolated afterwards, the threat of North Korea sponsoring a terrorist attack on the Games had been eliminated. In addition to helping democratize South Korea, then, the Olympics had eased regional tensions as well.

In the post-Cold War, post-September 11 world, however, the Olympic Movement may have more to fear from splintered, subaltern groups, not those seeking national aggrandizement, as in the case of 17 November, or international legitimacy, as in the case of Black September in Munich. As Eric Rudolph's Centennial Park bombing demonstrated, any extremist group might target the Olympics for reasons only obscurely related to the Games themselves. Despite the difficulty in predicting who might attempt to attack the Olympics, however, the awareness of such a possibility seems to preclude any large-scale assaults in the future. As the IOC has reminded the public, the regular schedule of the Olympic Games means that security measures can be initiated years in advance of the events themselves. In addition, future Games will also take security into consideration when it comes to selecting the competition sites. For the Salt Lake City Games, numerous surveillance and security devices were built into the competition facilities; features such as sensors and cameras have become a standard part of the Olympic infrastructure.

As the best known international sports competition, however, the Olympic Games will doubtless be subjected to further political controversies and terrorist threats. Unlike soccer's World Cup matches, the Olympic Movement generates a huge interest in North America every four years, adding further to the possibility that terrorist groups might strike at the Games to publicize their anti-Western views. Despite these risks the IOC has steadfastly maintained its commitment to continue on with the Games. As it concluded in its October 2001 report after the terrorist attacks on the United States, "The world needs the display of basic human values the Olympic Games exhibit now more than ever."


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Timothy G. Borden


1896 The first Olympic Games of the modern era are held in Athens, Greece.

1968 Controversies arise over political actions of twoAfrican-American athletes at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games.

September 5, 1972 Israeli athletes are taken hostage byPalestinian terrorists at Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. Two are killed by the terrorists and the remainder die in a rescue attempt.

1975 The Greek terrorist organization 17 November assassinates a U.S. embassy employee.

July 27, 1996 A bomb is set off in Centennial Park in Atlanta, Georgia, during XXVI Olympiad, with one spectator killed.

October 1998 Eric Robert Rudolph is charged by the FBI as being responsible for the Centennial Park bombing.

September 15-October 1, 2000 The XXVII Summer Olympiad is held in Sydney, Australia. Security is heightened in light of the Atlanta Games, but no terrorist acts occur.

September 11, 2001 Terrorist attacks on United States inNew York City and Washington, DC, kill and injure thousands.

February 8-23, 2002 The XIX Olympic Winter Games are held in Salt Lake City, Utah, employing even great security measures. The Games pass without terrorist violence.

International Olympic Committee Presidents, 1894-2001

Demetrius Vikelas (Greece)1894-96
Pierre de Coubertin (France)1896-1925
Henri Baillet-Latour (Belgium)1925-42
J. Sigfrid EdstrØm (Sweden)1942-46 (acting);
Avery Brundage (United States)1952-72
Lord Killanin (Ireland)1972-80
Juan Antonio Samaranch (Spain)1980-2001
Jacques Rogge (Belgium)2001-

Richard Jewell

1963- A native of Georgia, Richard Jewell spent most of his career in law enforcement, including a stint at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, that would come back to haunt him. An avid volunteer who coached Little League football teams, Jewell signed up as a security guard during the Olympic Games, held not far from the apartment he shared with his mother in Atlanta. Around 1:00 AM on July 27, 1996, during a concert in Centennial Park, Jewell spotted a suspicious package and alerted an ATF agent. He then immediately helped clear the area of spectators. When the bomb went off, however, one woman was killed and 111 others were injured. After the Piedmont College president contacted the FBI to voice his belief that Jewell was the bomber, the security officer became the primary suspect in the bombing.

After an intensive, 88-day investigation, the FBI cleared Jewell's name in the bombing. Jewell subsequently threatened several lawsuits against various media outlets for their alleged invasion of his property, and NBC and CNN settled claims for libel before they reached court. The New York Post and an affiliate of ABC Radio also settled lawsuits by Jewell, who reportedly received over $2 million in settlements from the various media outlets. The Atlanta Constitution, however, fought Jewell's lawsuit. As the sixth anniversary of the bombing approached, the matter had not been settled.

Eric Robert Rudolph

1966- One of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, Eric Robert Rudolph was indicted in October 1998 for the Centennial Park bombing of July 27, 1996. Rudolph was also charged as the suspect in two other bombings in the indictment. On January 16, 1997, Rudolph was alleged to have placed two bombs at an Atlanta abortion clinic; the second of the bombs injured four people with shrapnel. In a similar incident, Rudolph was charged with placing two bombs at a gay nightclub in Atlanta; the first bomb inflicted shrapnel wounds on five people, but the second bomb was disabled before it went off.

Prior to the indictment for the three bombings, Rudolph had already been charged with a January 1998 bombing at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. In that case, a police officer was killed and one woman was severely injured. After the bombing, as in the attack on the nightclub, letters from someone claiming to be the "Army of God" took responsibility for the bombings. The FBI believed that Rudolph and the "Army of God" were one and the same.

Rudolph, a carpenter by trade, was last seen in January 1998, shortly before he was charged with the Birmingham bombing. An experienced outdoorsman, Rudolph had prepared for a long stay in the wilderness of western North Carolina; after his disappearance, the FBI discovered that Rudolph had bought at least six-month's worth of provisions to take with him. While many believe that Rudolph is still alive in the mountainous terrain of North Carolina, there have been no confirmed reports of his whereabouts since his disappearance.

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The Olympics Confronts Terrorism

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