Published January 31, 2010
WASHINGTON (AP) — The massive, multimillion-dollar security operations for the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics are being adjusted in light of recent breaches such as the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner and the White House gatecrashers.
Sports and government officials say such lapses — where individuals got past guards on the ground — are leading to increased screening efforts at major upcoming events, including the NFL championship game between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints in Miami next Sunday, and the Vancouver Games starting Feb. 12.
Extensive ticket-checking procedures also are being implemented for soccer's World Cup, which begins June 11 in South Africa. Even entertainment awards shows are taking extra steps, like stricter monitoring of cars arriving at the Golden Globes Awards ceremony two weeks ago.
"We're very mindful of the world that we live in," the NFL's vice president of security, Milt Ahlerich, said in a telephone interview from Florida.
"We put our fate and our protection in the hands of that person on the front lines — those people that are protecting our gates — and being sure that someone who comes through doesn't have anything on them," Ahlerich said.
Part of the $6 million or so the NFL spends each year for Super Bowl security — on top of tax dollars spent by the government — has been devoted to what Ahlerich said were "several hours of extra training" for screeners by the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration. He wouldn't say whether any additional screening equipment was added in response to the failed Dec. 25 attack on a flight from the Netherlands to Detroit.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Bert Paquet, a spokesman for the Olympics security task force, acknowledged the failed bombing prompted intensive reassessments.
"It is definitely an incident that has raised our awareness," Paquet said. "While there's been no specific credible threat to the games, we understand the threat is always there. ... We've increased police presence at all entry points — the airport, the port."
He said more full-body scanners were being acquired, for use at the airport and possibly some Olympic venues, to supplement walkthrough and hand-held metal detectors screeners will use at event sites. While most screeners already had completed training before late December, the RCMP officers supervising screeners were given an updated briefing on how the Christmas Day episode could affect Olympic operations.
For the NFL, security is an ongoing issue throughout the season.
Ahlerich told The Associated Press that five to 10 bomb threats are phoned in during each regular season — roughly one every other week — but they amount to nothing. Still, he called "improvised explosive devices" — a car bomb or pipe bomb, for example — the biggest concern as thousands of people from dozens of federal agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, local police and two private security firms prepare for the Super Bowl. Other primary concerns, he said, include "the active shooter scenario, the chemical agent or biological agent scenario."
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Steven Branham, the federal coordinator for Super Bowl security, said Sun Life Stadium and environs will be screened for bombs and other threats well before anyone is allowed inside.
According to a federal security assessment prepared for last year's Super Bowl, the al-Qaida training manual lists "blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality, and sin" as one of the terrorist group's missions. That assessment also says a jihadist message board carried a posting in 2006 with information about how to conduct an attack on a sporting event using more than one suicide bomber, inside the venue and near exits.
Fans aren't allowed to bring large bags into the Super Bowl stadium, and 100 magnetometers — like those you step through at an airport — will be used to detect metal objects. There are also radiological, biological and chemical weapon detection and protection devices. But, Ahlerich noted, plastic explosives attached to someone's body would elude a metal detector, which is why nearly everyone entering the stadium is subjected to a pat-down search.
"Exceptions would be a police officer in uniform and a player in uniform, but they're going to be rigorously screened as well when they come in," Ahlerich said. He paused, then added another exception: "We're not going to pat down the president of the United States."
Used to be, long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, that screening wasn't nearly so rigorous at the Super Bowl. It wasn't even all that tough to get in without a ticket, or so says Dion Rich, subject of the book, "Confessions of the World's Greatest Gate-Crasher."
The 80-year-old Rich delights in regaling listeners with tales of walking right into Super Bowls, Olympics, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, the Academy Awards — all without showing a ticket. He said in a telephone interview from his San Diego home that he attended 24 of the first 25 Super Bowls without a ticket by sneaking through a turnstile or ducking in a media entrance or using connections — he says he owned a San Diego bar popular among football teams — to stroll right into the stadium alongside players.
"It's extremely difficult now, in light of 9-11 and in light of this last terrorist attempt on the airplane. Security is getting tighter and tighter and tighter," Rich said. "People say, 'Do you think (a terrorist) could do the same thing you do?' I say, 'Possible, but highly improbable.'"
The security buildup isn't just to stop rogue ticket-holders. The FBI does detailed background checks on everyone expected to work at the Super Bowl, from parking lot attendants to groundskeepers to beer vendors. John Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami field office, said each year the Super Bowl vetting process "does uncover people with background issues," though he wouldn't discuss specifics.
The FBI and Miami-Dade Police Department are running separate centers to collect and disseminate intelligence, but that might not uncover a person acting alone — the kind of threat that most worries the FBI's Gillies and James Loftus, interim director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
"I'm not an alarmist, but we worry about the lone guy with the rifle. That's where our attention is," Loftus said. "That's the guy who is not e-mailing, who is not networking."
An Arizona man was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for mailing letters to major media outlets threatening to kill people at the 2008 Super Bowl. He was accused of bringing a semiautomatic rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition to a parking lot near the stadium; he did not attack, however, and turned himself into police.
Loftus said another concern is someone who might try to use a false police or firefighter uniform to gain unauthorized access. Steps taken to thwart fake credentials and new "expertise" being used on bags carried into the stadium are among changes Ahlerich said were made to Super Bowl plans this year.
He declined to go into details but said it's "certainly not uncommon" that guns and knives are found and taken away from people entering a Super Bowl, "and it'll probably happen again this year. ... (But) a very key part of our plan is deterrence. We want to scare the bad guys away, and they should be scared away, because they won't get in."
Unlike the Super Bowl, the Olympics have been struck by terrorism. At the 1972 Munich Games, 11 athletes and coaches from Israel's Olympic team were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian gunmen. A bombing in a park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics killed one and injured more than 100 and was found to be the work of an anti-government extremist.
A senior International Olympic Committee member told the AP there have been other, less-serious security threats thwarted at past Olympics. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, citing an IOC policy of not talking publicly about security issues.
Another IOC official, executive board member Craig Reedie of Britain, said security concerns were raised by the ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan last year and the machine gun attack on a bus carrying the Togo soccer team to the African Cup of Nations in Angola in January.
Detailed security planning has been under way for Vancouver since the IOC approved its bid seven years ago. A security budget initially projected at $175 million now tops $900 million, and the force for the games will include more than 15,000 people, a surveillance blimp hovering over Vancouver, and more than 900 surveillance cameras monitoring competition venues and crowd-attracting public areas.
Similarly, security planning for the World Cup began years ago. South African police and military forces are coordinating efforts for soccer's showcase event and have conducted training simulations of chemical, biological and radiation attacks.
During the World Cup, fans driving to matches must park more than a half-mile away; only officials and teams can drive right up to a stadium. Once they arrive, spectators will have to show tickets to police and be subject to searches.
Clearly, that final step is considered key at all events.
"We feel very good about the plan. The concern always comes down to execution: We're depending on the team or the individual to execute," the NFL's Ahlerich said. "We've got a couple of thousand civilian security personnel and certainly a great number of sworn personnel assigned to this. If everybody does their job the way we planned, we'll be just fine. But if someone doesn't, then you've got risks associated — more risk than you would hope."
AP Legal Affairs Writer Curt Anderson in Miami; AP National Writer David Crary in New York; AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London; AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen in Beverly Hills, Calif.; and Associated Press Writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.