Counterterrorism and GILEE: The Atlanta ‘96 Olympics to today

Black male running during the blue marathon

GILEE was established in 1992 to provide counterterrorism training for police officers in preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But students in the past have questioned GILEE’s effectiveness – since there was in fact a terrorist attack at the Atlanta games. 

Since its inception, a focus on counterterrorism and preparedness has been emphasized for its American trainees. In an effort to improve homeland security, GILEE works with international partners, exchanging American expertise in areas like violent crime, community policing and urban policing. 

On July 27, 1996, a bomb went off in Centennial Olympic Park, killing one and injuring 111.  The bomb was planted by domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph and would be his first of four bombings between 1996 and 1998.  

Richard Jewell, a security guard, spotted the bomb and evacuated the area, limiting the loss of life to one. However, after the bombing, Jewell was accused of being the attacker and later sued the AJC and other media organizations for libel. In October 1996, Jewell was exonerated by the FBI.

The disorganization and lack of direction of the investigation — specifically the accusation against Jewell — as well as the failure to prevent the terrorist attack in the first place continue to fuel the argument against GILEE and questions over its effectiveness.  

“I would suspect they failed because they were too busy training our officers to look out for Arabs or Muslims, instead of the real threat of right-wing extremists,” Attorney Edward Mitchell said during the SGA investigative committee meeting.

However, GILEE’s assistance in security efforts have been productive. They provided training for the 2008 Beijing and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games — both of which were free from attack. Ahead of the 2016 Games, Rio police arrested eight for a plot to bomb the Rio Games, according to the BBC.  

“Following the September 11 terrorist atrocity, GILEE focuses on enhancing homeland security efforts through international cooperation and training programs,” the GILEE website states. “GILEE’s goal is to provide peer-to-peer professional training through the introduction of best practices in order to enhance agency capabilities to better deal with threats to public safety and improve security.”  

GILEE is fairly popular in the law enforcement community, according to the list of awards and honors on their website. Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Vernon Keenan, who attended the first GILEE delegation to Israel, validates this: “The GILEE program greatly enhances the professional development of Georgia law enforcement.”

The Georgia Sheriffs Association also calls the program one of the most beneficial training programs available to sheriff’s offices in Georgia. The association has even disputed claims about GILEE targeting specific minority groups.

The Association rejects all claims that these professional training exchanges include exercises of instruction relative to tactical or military operations designed to oppress minority populations or other specific groups,” the association stated. “Accusations that these valuable international training exchanges lead to deadly encounters in the United States are fallacious and slanderous.”

GILEE is the only non-law enforcement agency to receive the governor’s Public Safety Award. It has also received awards for working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, as well as the Israeli police commissioner and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.