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Salt Lake City forms committee to weigh Olympic bid

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City has formed an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030 — taking a key step toward trying to become a rare two-time host city.

The group made up of elected officials, business leaders and one key member of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City said Monday that it plans to make a recommendation to state leaders by Feb. 1.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Olympic Committee board said Friday that it was moving forward with discussions about bringing the Winter Games to America for either 2026 or 2030.

Because Los Angeles was recently awarded the 2028 Summer Games, a bid for 2030 would make more sense, chairman Larry Probst said Friday.

The USOC has until next March to pick a city; those expressing interest include Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nevada.

Innsbruck, Austria, said Sunday it wouldn’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, taking one more city out of the running. The hosting rights are set to be awarded in July 2019.

The same country hasn’t hosted back-to-back Olympics since before World War II, though when the International Olympic Committee scrapped its traditional rules and awarded 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (LA) at the same time, it indicated it was certainly open to new ideas.

Since 2012, Salt Lake City has been letting Olympic officials know the city was ready and willing to host again with a plan based on renovating and upgrading venues that have been in use since the Games ended.

The city had previously estimated it could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, but the committee will come up with a new cost estimate, said Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Robbins is one of three co-chairs on the committee along with Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics.

Robbins said he thinks the city has a great shot at winning a bid based on the relatively low cost and because it has demonstrated it knows how to maintain venues and keep them in use, putting the city in line with Agenda 2020, the blueprint that IOC President Thomas Bach created for future Olympics calling for less spending on new venues and infrastructure.

There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host for key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

He said an expanded light rail train line grid around Salt Lake City and a $3 billion airport renovation already underway are two examples of how Salt Lake City is even better prepared now to host than in 2002.

But he and other organizers will also have to answer questions about a bidding scandal that marred the 2002 Games and resulted in several International Olympic Committee members losing their positions for taking bribes.

“You can’t control the past,” Robbins said. “The results of what happened I think would certainly speak volumes. While there was some challenges, we hosted arguably one of the best Olympics ever hosted.”

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MORE: Austrians say no to 2026 Olympic bid

Feds ask judge to toss case about government snooping during 2002 Olympics

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The National Security Agency asked a judge Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit from a former Salt Lake City mayor who says the agency conducted a mass warrantless surveillance program during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The NSA argues the claims are implausible speculation about a program that may never have existed, but the government faced pointed questions from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby.

“These plaintiffs allege willful, intentional, unlawful conduct in violation of constitutional rights by our elected representatives at the highest levels and by our government,” Shelby said. A courtroom might be the only place where the matter can be addressed, he said.

Salt Lake City attorney Rocky Anderson, who was the mayor at the time of the games, said he learned about the program from a 2013 newspaper report and has since confirmed it with an unnamed source who worked for the NSA during the Olympics.

“They have not denied these allegations. They just somehow say they are implausible,” he said.

The lawsuit filed in August alleges the NSA collected the contents of text messages and emails and metadata about every phone call in in the Salt Lake City area before and during the games that took place less than six months after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

It says then-President George W. Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney authorized the program, and they are also named as defendants in the case. They haven’t responded to the claims and won’t be required to unless Shelby allows the lawsuit to go forward. He didn’t immediately rule Thursday.

The NSA also argues the court can’t address the claims dating back 14 years because they are too old.

Anderson contends the spy agency likely still has data collected during that time, pointing to a massive NSA data storage center about 20 minutes south of Salt Lake City. The government, though, dismisses that argument.

The six plaintiffs include Republican Utah lawmaker Howard Stephenson, who said he signed onto the lawsuit because he’s concerned about citizens’ privacy. “We shouldn’t look the other way and ignore the laws just because there’s a national security issue,” he said.

Anderson served as a Democratic mayor of Utah’s capital city from 2000 to 2008. He was an outspoken leader who led a protest of the Iraq War during Bush’s 2007 visit to Salt Lake City.