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Who Links Here

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Vegas Cased

By Steven Taylor @ 11:42 am

Here’s an odd story: U.S. Didn’t Warn Las Vegas of Threats

When the Justice Department obtained two videos suggesting terrorists had cased Las Vegas casinos, the discussions didn’t center on public alerts or heightened security. Rather, authorities worried about the effects on tourism and the casinos’ legal liabilities, internal memos show.

One of the tapes, found in Spain in 2002, shows al-Qaida’s European operatives casing Las Vegas casinos in 1997, engaging in casual conversation that included an apparent reference to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The other tape found in a Detroit terror cell’s apartment had eerily similar footage of the MGM Grand, Excalibur and New York, New York casinos - three hotels within a short distance of each other on the Las Vegas strip with a combined total of 11,000 rooms.

The wild part is as follows:

One document obtained by The Associated Press quotes a federal prosecutor in Las Vegas as saying the city’s mayor was concerned about the “deleterious effect on the Las Vegas tourism industry” if the evidence became public. The mayor said Monday he was never told of the footage.

Another memo states the casinos didn’t want to see the footage for fear it would make them more likely to be held liable in civil court if an attack occurred.

“The information, unfortunately, was not taken as seriously as we believed it to have been,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino told AP in an interview, recounting how only two local police officers accepted the FBI agent’s offer to see the tape.

“The reason that he (the FBI agent) was given for the low turnout was because of liability, that if they heard this information they would have to act on it. It was extraordinarily unacceptable and absolutely outrageous,” Convertino said.

However, the local authorities claim that they were never told:

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday he was never told about the tapes until learning about them from AP this week. “If I were told, I would certainly tell the public,” Goodman said.

Clark County Undersheriff Doug Gillespie said he first learned about the Detroit footage during the Detroit trial in spring 2003 and found out about the Spanish tape afterward, but he confirmed two of his detectives had met with the FBI.

“They’re saying we didn’t do our job, and it is to the contrary. They had the information. They chose not to give it to us,” Gillespie said of federal authorities.

Yet, the FBI assert they shared, and no one wanted to watch the videos:

When FBI supervisory agent Paul George flew to Las Vegas to show the Detroit tape, “the FBI, casino representatives, Clark County Sheriff’s Department and the JTTF (joint terrorism task force) declined to attend,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett wrote.

“No one showed up except for two Metro officers,” Corbett added. “Indeed, the casinos informed Agent George that they did not want to show up because of concerns about liability.”

In a series of e-mails, Convertino pleaded with Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Lever in Las Vegas to take the video footage seriously, even though local officials were cool to it. He noted two experts had concluded the tape matched other al-Qaida surveillance.

“While I understand your previously stated concerns that the mayor of Las Vegas, the local sheriff and others believe our indictment may temporarily have a deleterious effect on the Las Vegas tourism industry, it is unconscionable that any reasonable person would assert that anyone here possessed a cavalier attitude toward the tape,” Convertino wrote.

The whole affair is quite odd, and troubling. Someone is playing CYA, and at a minimum we have a lack of communication on potentially significant data.

Also, I would note, the headline of the story is inaccurate and doesn’t jibe with the content of the story. At a minimum the headline picks sides in the he-said/she-said elements of the story, which isn’t something the headline ought to be doing.

Click here to go to the main page.

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