Vegas fumbled when
told of potential threat


Internal Justice Department memos and e-mail indicate the Las Vegas government and casino officials declined to be briefed on terrorism threats to the city.

LAST week's highly public security measures taken at financial institutions on the East Coast are in stark contrast to the way Las Vegas officials ran for cover two years ago after learning that casinos had been cased by terrorists. Apparently worried about the effect on tourism, city officials didn't want to know about it, while casinos avoided the problem because of concerns about legal liability, according to memos and e-mail obtained by The Associated Press. The shameful behavior described in the documents should not be repeated.

A tape found in Spain in 1997 shows al-Qaida European operatives casing the MGM Grand, Excalibur and New York-New York casinos and engaging in casual conversation, including a reference to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. The tape later was sent by courier to al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan.

Footage showing the same hotels was discovered last summer when FBI agents belatedly decoded a tape found a year earlier in a Detroit terror cell's apartment. The footage switched back and forth from scenes of Las Vegas to pre-Sept. 11 scenes of New York that included the World Trade Center and a nearby hotel.

Paul George, an FBI supervisory agent, flew to Las Vegas in late 2002 to show the Detroit tape but "the FBI (in the Las Vegas field office), 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. Indeed, the casinos informed Agent George that they did not want to show up because of concerns about liability."

The reason George gave "for the low turnout was because of liability, that if they heard this information they would have to act on it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino told AP in an interview. "It was extraordinarily unacceptable and absolutely outrageous."

A document obtained by AP quotes a federal prosecutor in Las Vegas as saying that Mayor Oscar Goodman was concerned about the "deleterious effect on the Las Vegas tourism industry" if the evidence became public.

Goodman denies being informed about the tapes, despite e-mail and memos to the contrary, and insists he would have told the public if he had known. "If there were danger, you can bet I'd be screaming it all over the media," Goodman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The odds of such a bet are questionable, even in Sin City.

The Detroit video was introduced into evidence last year in a trial in which a federal jury in Detroit convicted two North African immigrants of supporting terrorism aimed at attacking the United States, and a third man of document and visa fraud. The Justice Department kept prosecutors from introducing the Spanish tape in the trial.




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