FBI touches down to test out techniques | TahoeDailyTribune.com

FBI touches down to test out techniques

William Ferchland
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter, left, and Agent Chris Campion stand in front of the "Peace Maker," a vehicle used by the FBI when times get tough.

More than 200 FBI personnel swarmed into South Lake Tahoe this week to train in scenarios that included controlling terrorists, handling a bomb threat and reacting to a weapon of mass destruction.

The exercises turned South Tahoe Airport into a command post with some of the most high-tech, secretive tools that are at the disposal of the most powerful law enforcement agency in America.

A helicopter flew from the FBI’s training base in Quantico, Va., to the basin so SWAT teams could practice rescues. Details of the aircraft were hushed by agents fearful the information could get into the wrong hands.

Another machine, called the “Peace Maker,” carried agents both inside and hanging on the outside.

An operations center was fully functional in four hours Sunday but could be formed quicker in a real circumstance. On Wednesday it took nearly a full morning to break down and package.

The day and night exercises were an effort to combine different law enforcement agencies into a fluid, effective force.

Keith Slotter, special agent in charge at the Sacramento office, said the bureau has shifted most of its focus from crimes such as kidnapping and hostage holding to counterterrorism efforts after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

“That is the major threat,” he said.

In addition, the bureau is on its way to hiring the most agents in its history, although Slotter wouldn’t solely attribute the increased numbers to the aftereffects of Sept. 11.

On the bureau’s radar screen are summer events like the track and field Olympic trials in Sacramento and the Democratic and Republican conventions. Also, the bureau is busy training international security forces for the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Even though Slotter acknowledged that Lake Tahoe is not likely high on a terrorist’s priority list, the basin warrants attention. Increased populations during holidays, casinos and the environment offer targets.

“Certainly it’s been done before,” Slotter said.

In 1980 a domestic terrorist wanting ransom used a bomb to destroy a section of Harveys Resort and Casino. In the summer of 2001, the Heavenly gondola was damaged from what authorities believe was an ecoterrorist attack from the Earth Liberation Front.

The agents, specialists and technicians during this week’s training were under the supervision of officials from the FBI offices in Sacramento and Las Vegas. South Shore law enforcement agencies participated.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.

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