Uproar in Las Vegas

The story that ignited the firestorm made
national headlines Aug. 9, when the news service posted an article in
which Detroit-based US prosecutor Richard Convertino accused Las Vegas
officials and casino executives of failing to meet with FBI agent Paul
George. The agent went to Las Vegas to share videotaped footage that
Convertino, and some others, considered part of a terrorist plot
against the city.

Convertino was the lead prosecutor in the
trial of four men suspected of being members of a Detroit terrorist
sleeper cell. One man was acquitted, one was convicted of document
fraud and the two others were convicted of providing material support
for terrorism and document fraud. However, when it was revealed that
prosecutors had not shared evidence that would have cast doubt on their
allegations, a judge on Sept. 2 threw out the terrorism conviction and
ordered a new trial on the lesser document charges. At press time,
Convertino was being investigated for misconduct and withholding

Las Vegas speaks out

Hours after the Aug. 9 AP story broke, a
judge temporarily lifted a gag order placed on the Detroit case to give
Las Vegas authorities a chance to defend their actions. Special Agent
Dave Nanz, a spokesman for the FBI’s Las Vegas field office, responded
by calling Convertino a “disgruntled employee.”

Nanz told the Las Vegas Review Journal
that the reason local law-enforcement and casino officials didn’t meet
with George was because they had already seen the tape, shown to them
by local FBI agents, six months earlier.

“Talk that everyone gave him the cold
shoulder, that’s completely inaccurate,” Nanz told the newspaper.
“There was no relevant party here that needed to see the tapes.
Everyone had seen it months before.” 

The Detroit tape showed footage of the MGM
Grand, Excalibur and New York-New York casinos, as well as Disneyland.
Las Vegas officials described them as vacation home videos. Justice
Department officials announced that a Tunisian man shown in a video of
landmarksin New York, Las Vegas and California told investigators the
tape was amateur footage from a university student trip, not
surveillance, as characterized by prosecutors at the Detroit trial.

Then, just three days after the hoopla
surrounding the AP story, seven new tapes arrived at the Las Vegas FBI
office. The videos were confiscated from a Pakistani man, Kamran
Akhtar, who was arrested Aug. 9 in New York on immigration violations
after he was witnessed videotaping skyscrapers.

Within hours of receiving the tapes, all the
major players involved in Nevada homeland security attended a press
conference in Gov. Kenny Guinn’s Las Vegas office. That included FBI
Special Agent in Charge Ellen Knowlton, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman,
Undersheriff Doug Gillespie, Henderson Police Chief Michael Mayberry,
Department of Public Safety Director George Togliaati and Assistant US
Attorney Sharon Lever.

The purpose was to dispel fears and show that
local, state and federal authorities were taking the tapes seriously
and not shirking their duty to inform the public.

“We are here because we wanted to show that
we work together and we share this kind of information,” Goodman said
at the press conference, attended by HSToday.

Gillespie explained that the tapes resembled
“tourist-type” videos and said they depicted what appeared to be family
members and other tourists walking down sidewalks or in hotel

Knowlton agreed. “It’s very consistent with what your family would do if they came here on vacation,” she said.

And an animated Goodman hammered the point
home: “I have not been told today that there is any credible threat, as
far as Las Vegas is concerned. That’s the bottom line.”

New faces

On Aug. 25 Guinn named Giles Vanderhoof to
head the state’s homeland-security agency. Vanderhoof is Nevada’s
adjutant general in charge of overseeing 3,000 members of the Nevada
Air and Army National Guard, and will remain in that role. Adjutant
generals serve as homeland-security administrators in 10 other states,
as well.

Togliatti, the state’s director of public
safety, had been acting advisor on homeland security since Jerry
Bussell left the post in May.

Guinn also named Dale Carrison to chair the
state’s 16-member Homeland Security Commission. Carrison serves as the
emergency medicine director at the University Medical Center of
Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. HST

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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