Olympic Bombshell

What investigators haven’t revealed: Attending the ’96 games was more dangerous than you knew.


Federal and Georgia state investigators who are handling the probe into the 1996 Olympic bombing — as well as two other related bombings in Georgia — have reason to be nervous.

Mother Jones has obtained information indicating that not only did investigators erroneously point to Richard Jewell as the Olympic bombing suspect, they also have hidden the extent of the threat to public safety at the Atlanta Olympics. And specific details of their investigation will soon be called into question by victims of the bombing, who are suing Olympic organizers for more than $100 million.

While the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Atlanta Police Department insist only one bomb was found at the games, several Olympic officials told Mother Jones that a number of other fully functional bombs were discovered near Olympic venues and deactivated. “I’d rather not discuss the exact number,” says Larry Whitlock, a senior bomb technician for the GBI and chief of the Olympic bomb-removal detail. “I can tell you we had a few. More than a couple.” (The FBI says it will not confirm or deny the number of bombs found.)

The FBI has confirmed a link between the Olympic bomb and two Atlanta-area bombings at a gay nightclub and an abortion clinic, but no one is willing to say whether any of the other bombs found at the Olympics were also created by the same person or persons.

The GBI, responding to Mother Jones’ Open Records Act request, said it and the FBI are jointly withholding incident reports on 21 “suspect packages” that were discovered near Olympic venues by bomb squads. Officials have refused to comment on the content of the packages. (Jim Duff, who heads the GBI’s internal affairs department, discounted statements made by Whitlock and other sources and claimed Mother Jones had circumvented appropriate information channels. Duff insists no other bombs were found.) According to Whitlock, the denials stem from the reluctance of law enforcement agencies to divulge bomb detection capabilities during an ongoing investigation.

Donna Burns, special projects director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, acknowledges that Olympic bomb squads “disrupted” 16 packages using a water cannon or manual deactivation but wouldn’t confirm how many were fully functional. “The majority were false alarms,” she says. (Burns referred subsequent queries to Duff.)

Mounting evidence that security forces may have been too overwhelmed with bomb threats to protect Olympic-goers may explain why the GBI is reluctant to divulge any details about the 21 suspect packages, 17 of which were found on the day of the Centennial Park explosion. A report produced by the State Olympic Law Enforcement Command reveals that Olympic security forces were overwhelmed by bomb threats and reports of suspect packages. According to the report, “Incidents reported to the Bomb Management Center were significantly higher than anticipated. This resulted in personnel having to work exceptionally long hours, causing fatigue and safety concerns.”

Could the Centennial Park explosion have been avoided if investigators hadn’t been so exhausted? That question may soon be answered by attorneys for those injured in the bombing, who say they’ll soon be attempting to gain access to those 21 incident reports.

Documents:

  • Read a GBI letter refusing Mother Jones access to records.

  • The SOLEC report saying Bomb Management Center officials were “fatigued.”
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