Why did LA28 hire an Army general as CEO?

Three days after Reynold Hoover started as LA28 CEO, the 2028 Summer Olympics were officially designated a National Special Security Event — the furthest in advance that this designation has ever been made

Why did LA28 hire an Army general as CEO?
In 1985, LAPD used a 14-foot battering ram affixed to an armored vehicle procured during the 1984 Summer Olympics to smash through the front of a Pacoima home. It narrowly missed two women and three children, who were inside eating ice cream. UCLA Library Special Collections

Earlier this month, LA28 hired a new chief executive officer: Reynold Hoover, a retired lieutenant general for the U.S. Army. In addition to his 35-year military career, Hoover has worked for an alphabet soup of federal agencies — FEMA, DHS, CIA, he even handled Santa-tracking duties at NORAD. This makes sense because when you're planning an event billed as the "world's largest peacetime gathering," who better to run the whole operation than someone privy to the world's largest non-peacetime gatherings? He may not have any real ties to LA, but with his security clearances, I bet he could get some!

Hoover's background is a marked departure from LA28's previous leadership. The first CEO of LA28 was former Goldman Sachs executive Gene Sykes, who had also served as CEO of the LA bid. After Sykes departed in 2018 — he's currently chairman of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee — LA28's CEO was Kathy Carter, a former soccer player and sports marketing executive who helped bring the World Cup to LA the first time in 1994. (Carter actually held two roles, CEO of LA28 and CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Properties, for which she reportedly earned compensation totaling over $2 million in 2021.) Carter stepped down in December in what she called LA28's planned transition "from a commercial and planning phase to an operational and delivery phase." That same language is echoed in LA28's release, which attempts to normalize a military hire as a megaevent must: "Hoover’s appointment underscores LA28’s heightened focus on operations and delivery which is typical for organizing committees at this stage, given the complexity and scope of staging the games." Hoover, LA28 says, personally brings "significant experience in planning, operations and logistics."

On June 13, three days after Hoover started as LA28 CEO, the 2028 Summer Olympics were officially designated a National Special Security Event. This means that a newly formed steering committee consisting of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials met for the first time to start doing their planning together. And it also means the Secret Service is now the lead federal agency in charge of implementing a "seamless security plan that will create a safe and secure environment" for the games.

NSSEs weren't established until 1998 — I learned that from the Secret Service's #TriviaTuesday — so this designation was not in place for the Atlanta games in 1996. But it was in place for the Salt Lake City games in 2002 — the same megaevent where ex-National Security Agency spy Thomas Drake later claimed the NSA and FBI conducted blanket mass surveillance, including collecting and storing "virtually all electronic communications going into or out of the Salt Lake City area, including the contents of emails and text messages." Rocky Anderson, a civil-rights attorney who was mayor of Salt Lake City during the games, called it the scandal of the century: "When we brought the Olympics to this city, nobody agreed that we would trade off our fundamental civil rights for the government to come in and spy on us." Hoover also worked the 2002 games, according to the LA28 release, providing a quintessential NSSE service: military explosive ordnance disposal support. (Maybe he can give LAPD a few pointers in this department.)

But here's the thing about these types of security designations — they're usually made a year or two out from the event. According to the Secret Service, the designation of the 2028 Olympics as a National Special Security Event now is the furthest in advance that this designation has ever been made. From a federal law enforcement perspective, LA's games began last Thursday. And Hoover's close affiliation with many of the acronyms represented in this committee underlines an unprecedented level of collaboration with federal agencies — starting more than four years before the opening ceremonies.

"What these special security events do is provide a lot of ability to coordinate between law enforcement agencies, from border patrol to sheriff departments to highway patrol and even campus police," says Max Felker-Kantor, an associate professor of history at Ball State University. As the author of Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD, Felker-Kantor's research has helped illuminate just how much the 1984 games accelerated the militarization of LA's police force. (As a Gen X kid I am also extremely intrigued by his new book about the DARE program.) "In 1984 they were coordinating, too, they just didn’t have these special designations," he says. LAPD, LASD, and the FBI aligned as a supergroup named the Olympics Major Crime Task Force in an effort to "sanitize" downtown streets. A partnership with the Department of Defense allowed LAPD to hire more officers. This federal-to-local collaboration also includes funding and a physical exchange of tools and weapons, from crowd surveillance technology to armored vehicles. And after 1984, Felker-Kantor says, "the LAPD kept a lot of that stuff to go bust down people’s doors."

Three years ago, some of LA's leaders heard the alarms being sounded about engaging in this type of coordination. In 2019, a state bill authorized the California Office of Emergency Services to create the NSSE's precursor, a security cooperative named the California Olympic and Paralympic Public Safety Command (COPPSC — come on, really, COPPSC?). NOlympics LA put together an explainer and began outreaching to electeds and staff. In 2021, when LA's city council had to vote to give then-mayor Eric Garcetti and then-council president Nury Martinez powers to work with COPPSC, Stop LAPD Spying's Hamid Khan warned against a repeat of 1984: "We saw massive sweeps. We saw the national security police state using that opportunity to expand oppression, expand surveillance, accumulate new weapons, push boundaries and justify its violence."

Multiple councilmembers appeared concerned. They raised questions about the potential overpolicing of their constituents, including wondering out loud how to protect LA's undocumented residents from the overreach of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson talked about being a teen during the 1984 games when his parents told him to stay inside after 6 p.m. to avoid encounters with LAPD. "The Olympics open up a door for law enforcement to pursue things that might not be supported in a regular setting and I just want to register and agree with my colleagues that, since we have that history, we need to be out front about that," he said. But only two councilmembers — Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin — ended up voting against the motion. Harris-Dawson, who becomes council president in September, voted yes, with the condition that "when the time is right we need to take a bold and assertive stance around our public safety vision for the Olympics in our city."

But the window for LA taking any kind of assertive stance might be closing — if it hasn't already, says Felker-Kantor. Historically, the ongoing cooperation among law enforcement agencies raises red flags, he says, but leaders should be concerned about the other types of partnerships entered into as part of these agreements, like deals made with private security contractors. It's particularly worrying, Felker-Kantor says, in a moment where Angelenos have increased interaction with law enforcement as part of daily life: ongoing campus protests, the militarization at the border, and the "surge" of officers on transit. "I would really be wondering what this all means from a legal sense — not just the coordination between law enforcement, but also the sharing of intelligence," he says. "Does this lead to any changes in legal definitions of probable cause or search?"

It's a situation that has the potential to get much worse should we find ourselves staring down a Donald Trump sequel this November. But LA has actually been here before. The games were awarded during the Trump years and LA28's leadership needed to coordinate closely with him to get support for the bid in the first place. Maybe having someone in LA28's CEO role who can play nice with either administrations was the goal. This may also provide the best explanation for why former transportation secretary Elaine Chao — wife of back-on-the-Trump-train Mitch McConnell — is on the LA28 organizing committee. Or maybe, as heir to a global shipping empire, she's just helping out with logistics too. 🔥

🏅 I've seen some confusion about this LA28 announcement as many people didn't know LA28 has both a CEO and a president. The president and chairperson of LA28 remains Casey Wasserman, who was recently named one of LA's most influential people by the Los Angeles Times. The story notes that since former LA mayor Eric Garcetti left to become the U.S. ambassador to India, "Wasserman has become the face of the LA Games." This is a weird thing to say because Wasserman has always been the face of LA's Summer Olympics — long before the games were even awarded, because he was the chair of the bidding process, which began in 2014. During the bid, Garcetti and Wasserman were nicknamed the "1984 Boys"

🎨 In other LA28 staffing news, Maria Arena Bell has been appointed as chair of the Cultural Olympiad, a citywide IOC-mandated arts festival that runs concurrently to the games. According to the LA Times, Bell "wants to create installations that will remain after the games are over — like the freeway murals from the 1984 Olympics." Like Wasserman, Bell will work uncompensated because her role is a volunteer position, along with the rest of the LA28 board. Last year, Bell and her husband Bill Bell, Jr. made headlines for selling their Tadao Ando-designed Malibu home to Jay-Z and Beyoncé for $200 million, breaking the California sales record. (This house is not to be confused with the Tadao Ando-designed Malibu home gutted by Kanye West)

💰 There's a fascinating read in GQ this month entitled "The World’s Richest Family Is About to Remake the Olympics. Here’s How." Tom Lamont embeds with the Arnault family, owners of the LVMH luxury empire (that's: Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) and one of Paris's top employers, as their brand managers aim to capitalize — tastefully, of course — on this summer's games. And AP's Stephen Wade has a good Olympics explainer: a "billion-dollar business with political overtones." It's all quite the harbinger for what LA's wealthiest families are likely already strategizing for 2028 — and, hopefully, a moment for them to consider what kind of legacy their wealth might leave behind

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