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The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives never considered the bomb that exploded on July 27, 1996, in Centennial Olympic Park midway through the Olympic Games to be the work of a bomber who sought to be a hero. Within three days of the bombing, ATF agent James M. Cavanaugh, who was then special agent in charge of the agency’s Birmingham, Ala., office and one of the agents assigned to investigate the bombing, described the bomb as one driven by hatred — not the desire for heroism. Last week, Cavanaugh, a 28-year veteran of the ATF who once tracked the Unabomber, confirmed that in 1996, in the early stages of the investigation, he concluded that the park bomb was far too deadly to be the work of someone seeking the limelight as a hero, and that park security guard Richard Jewell did not fit any developing profile of the bomber. Cavanaugh — who also has been deeply involved in the investigations of Eric Robert Rudolph and John Allen Muhammad, the Washington sniper — is now special agent in charge of the agency’s Nashville, Tenn., office. He declined to comment on a recent order by Fulton County State Court Judge John R. Mather in a pending defamation case against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stemming from the Olympic Park bombing. In that order, Mather determined that newspaper statements describing plaintiff Jewell as fitting the profile of “the lone bomber” who “planted the bomb [in Centennial Olympic Park] so that he could then be a hero” were “not substantially false.” Jewell v. Cox Enterprises (Fult. Super. June 1, 2004). In 1996, Cavanaugh and other ATF agents were voicing their opinions that the part-time security guard was not the bomber. Cavanaugh also declined to comment on statements by Jewell’s attorney, L. Lin Wood Jr., that Mather’s ruling would bolster the defense of Rudolph, who is now charged with the Olympic Park bombing, two other Atlanta bombings and the a 1998 bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic, citing Rudolph’s scheduled August trial in Birmingham. As the ATF’s Birmingham special agent in charge, Cavanaugh headed the investigation that resulted in Rudolph’s arrest and indictment. “It doesn’t look like a hero bomb to me,” Cavanaugh said at the time. “There’s too much hate for it to be a hero bomb. You don’t fling hundreds of nails into thousands of people to be a hero.” Cavanaugh confirmed that he made those statements to federal and state agents assigned to the multiagency law enforcement command post in Birmingham within three days of the bombing. Cavanaugh’s office was active in the investigation because, during the 1996 Olympics, Birmingham was a venue for Olympic soccer. Cavanaugh’s agents also investigated whether members of the Gadsden, Ala., Minutemen, a right-wing militia, had a role in the bombing. Within 48 hours of the bombing, ATF agents cleared the Minutemen of any involvement. But Cavanaugh continued to believe that the bomb was motivated by hatred because it was packed with shrapnel and apparently was intended to inflict maximum injuries. That was not the work of a misguided “hero,” he said. Cavanaugh based that opinion, in part, on his experience at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. There, authorities uncovered a pipe bomb planted on a bus intended to transport Olympic athletes. The Los Angeles police officer who spotted the bomb ripped away the wires and tossed it out of range of the athletes. He was later found to have planted it. That bomb was never designed to explode. Instead, Cavanaugh said, it was intended to make the police officer who discovered it look like a hero. In conversations within days after the Olympic Park bombing, Cavanaugh also noted that Jewell didn’t actually discover the bomb. The knapsack containing the bomb was brought to his attention by passersby, Cavanaugh said. While other law enforcement agencies may have developed a profile of the Olympic Park bomber, Cavanaugh said the ATF — whose agents normally are assigned to investigate bombings — didn’t develop a profile in the days following the bombing. Even as news media outlets were identifying Jewell as the object of FBI scrutiny, the ATF already had dismissed him as a potential suspect, Cavanaugh said at the time.

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