Sin City's Mayor Responds to Apathy Charge

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Long live Las Vegas (search), but is the city of Las Vegas rolling the dice with tourists' safety? The FBI has surveillance tapes of Las Vegas casinos shot by terror suspects, but only two local detectives bothered to watch them.

Federal prosecutors' memos suggests the city and the casinos were worried about their own liability and the affect on tourism. Let's ask Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (search) for his take on the possible threat and the local response.

So, Mayor, if the Feds are coming around saying we've got some videotape made by Sheikh Khalid Mohammed (search) whatever, do you want to know about it, or do you want to say, "Don't tell me, don't tell me?"

OSCAR GOODMAN, MAYOR, LAS VEGAS: Oh, come on, John. Of course we'd want to know about it if, in fact, they were really videotapes of surveillance. I had the occasion today, after finding out about the existence of the tapes yesterday for the first time, I had the occasion to take a look at it over at the FBI Office and the tape is really a very amateurish, sort of a tourist-type home videotape of walking down the strip.

It had nothing at all to do with surveillance. You know, from my own life, I would know what surveillance is, and there was no surveillance in this particular tape.

GIBSON: Your whole life as a lawyer representing people who were charged criminally. OK. That's on another date.

GOODMAN: Right. That is.

GIBSON: But, nonetheless, Mayor, come on.

GOODMAN: Of course, we want to know about it and I give you my word that at no point in time...

GIBSON: But let's get real. Mohamed Atta was staying there. We have known for some time these Islamists, they think Las Vegas is the very definition of Sin City.

GOODMAN: You know what's funny though, John? In looking at the videotape today, it was cute because it's a bunch of kids, they look like they were in their mid-20s. They're taking pictures of each other. They're eating ice cream, they're wearing Western clothes. They probably just came back from one of our gentlemen's clubs and they're playing the slot machine.

So, everything that we're told about what they don't like, they were enjoying in Las Vegas. What can I say?

GIBSON: But Oscar, you are saying Las Vegas' pull is so strong, we can seduce even Osama Bin Laden's terrorists. We can turn them around to our way of living and I think the evidence shows that isn't possible.

GOODMAN: No. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that we've never had any credible information whatsoever conveyed to us by the federal authorities or the local authorities which would suggest that there's a problem in Las Vegas as far as terrorism.

If there were, I would definitely call a press conference — you know me, John, I'm not shy — and tell the public the truth. But the truth is, we've never had a credible threat that I could tell the public about.

GIBSON: Yes, but I mean, come on, you got big players in your town. I mean, you're going to call up Steve Wynn and say, "This may hurt your hotel occupancy rates, but I got to go on and tell people that Las Vegas is a terror target?"

GOODMAN: Oh, if, in fact, we had information to that affect, it'd be a sin if I didn't say it. And I would certainly go public and indicate that law enforcement was aware of some kind of a problem and we're going to address it and advise the public that...

GIBSON: Didn't 9/11 really hurt Vegas?

GOODMAN: It hurt us for a little bit of time; the immediate sting hurt. We lost about 30,000 people who were working in the industry. They lost their jobs, but they've all been reabsorbed and business is better than ever right now. We are booming; the economy's booming; the gaming industry is booming; the tax structure is wonderful. I mean, it's just a great place to live.

And I can assure you, you know me well enough that if there were a problem, I'd tell you about it.

GIBSON: It appears to me that there may be a little sense in Vegas that we are so surveilled here, that we have so many house cameras, we have so much security, we have cameras on every building looking in every corner, we're worried about crooks and card cheats and thieves and, you know, we are so surveilled, we don't have to worry about these guys, these Islamist terrorists because we're watching so closely already?

Could Vegas talk itself into a false sense of security?

GOODMAN: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I know of certain things I'm not permitted to speak about publicly, but we are very cognizant of the potential, even though we don't have any information that there would be any problem, but we're cognizant of the potential. We look for the potential. The Metro Police Department is looking for it.

The hotels with their own security forces, which are actually FEMA trained, down in Emmitsburg, Maryland to look for these kinds of things. Everybody is very sensitive to it, but, once again, I've got to emphasize that no credible threat ever expressed to me about any danger of terrorism.

GIBSON: Are the Feds talking to your office fairly consistently? Are they saying, "Look..."

GOODMAN: Yes. We're briefed whenever there's an alert change; we're briefed on that and I have a very good relationship with the head of the FBI here. As a matter of fact, I looked at the surveillance tape today when I found out about it, I looked at it in the FBI Office and very cooperative as far as my office is concerned.

GIBSON: Oscar Goodman, also known as Mr. Mayor when you go to Las Vegas. Oscar, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

GOODMAN: Thanks, John.

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