As the countdown to the commencement of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games continues, British officials take unprecedented measures to ensure that the event will not be marred by violence.
After much anticipation, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games will finally commence on July 27 in London in an opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium that is sure to be a spectacle of pomp and pageantry on a grand scale.
The Olympics are said to be the world’s foremost sports competition containing the world’s most elite athletes. They also constitute a major opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.
London will set a record as the only city to have ever hosted this epic event on three separate occasions. Prior to its current 2012 hosting, London has also hosted the Olympics in 1908 and in 1948.
Already a highly popular and attractive terrorist target as an international capital, London is now even more of an inviting target for terrorist organizations. London will be the hottest target on Earth this summer.
As an event that showcases the talents of the top athletes from every nation, the Olympics could be targeted by virtually any terrorist organization in the world today.
Officials will also monitor more pedestrian threats against individual athletes like those of crazed and potentially dangerous stalkers that may be infatuated with a particular Olympian.
Besides defending the athletes and Olympic venues and events, authorities must also concern themselves with the security of visiting heads of state that will be in London to cheer on the athletes from their respective nations as well as ensure the safety of the millions of tourists that will flock to this city to take part in the excitement of the Games – the biggest party of 2012.
And of course, officials will also be concerned with the general security of London itself; as well as its continued daily operations and the municipality’s citizenry.
A London Underground roundel at one of the entrances to Piccadilly Circus tube station. Piccadilly Circus itself is in the background.
However, while officials readily acknowledge that London is an attractive target, they have promised that the city will not be a soft target.
For the past 18 months the nation has taken some rather unorthodox methods to ensure that the Games and the city itself will be a hard target against any threat.
From armed commando raids by terrorists, bombings, hijackings, weapons of mass destruction as well as numerous other threats, officials claim to be prepared for it all.
Some of the rather extraordinary security measures being employed by Britain are fierce and even novel.
Fighter jets, attack helicopters, counter-terrorism teams, warships, armed troops, and even missile batteries mounted to rooftops are just some of the more visible measures being deployed.
Protecting a complex event like the Olympics is hard work and very serious business.
While critics – many of whom are Londoners – decried living in what some now refer to as “siege city,” government officials acknowledge that the measures are necessary to secure the Games for all.
Britain's police and military forces say they are ready but if in fact they are not, they have very little time left as time dwindles down to the opening ceremony.
From the opening ceremony on July 27 to the closing ceremony on August 12, Britain will be responsible for securing the 2012 Olympic Games.
The world will come to London this summer and Britain will be charged with protecting it.
The London skyline in the Canary Wharf district. Canary Wharf is London's business and financial center and is home to some of the UK's tallest buildings.
Dark Anniversaries: The Spector of Munich at The 2012 Olympic Games
There is a heavy shadow of militancy associated with the Olympic Games. However, there was a time not very long ago when things were different with regard to security at this special event.
Today’s extraordinary and wild security measures for the Olympic Games can be summed up in one word: Munich.
At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, a team of militant Palestinian nationalists took advantage of a fairly light security environment and raided the Olympic Village, storming dorms housing Israeli athletes and seizing them as hostages.
A botched hostage rescue attempt by a small team of poorly trained police sharpshooters triggered a fierce shootout with the heavily armed nationalists that resulted in the deaths of a dozen Israeli Olympic athletes.
This brazen act of terrorism shocked the global conscious and became forever known as The Munich Massacre.
The London 2012 Olympic Games will mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.
It is because of the Munich massacre that authorities now go to extraordinary lengths to secure the Olympic Games. The security measures which are designed to prevent another Olympic massacre get more elaborate and intense with the passing of each generation.
More so than anything else, the authorities of a host are obsessed with preventing another Munich, no matter the cost.
Absolute perfection in detail with regard to security and safety is the goal of authorities. Nothing less will do.
As the nation pushes forward with an eye towards the opening ceremonies, this nation has also just recently mourned the passing of yet another grim anniversary.
The date of July 7 marked the seventh anniversary of the terrorist bombings by al-Qaida operatives. At least 52 people were killed and 700 wounded in the 2005 incident when four suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the London Underground and on buses in a coordinated attack that occurred during the morning rush hour.
Ambulances and other emergency vehicles at Russell Square, London after the 7th July bombings. At least 52 people were killed and 700 wounded in the 2005 incident when four al-Qaida suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the London Underground and on buses in a coordinated attack that occurred during the morning rush hour.
The attack was the deadliest act of terrorism in Britain's history and the overall deadliest attack in that nation since World War Two. The attack is often referred to as Britain's 9/11.
Interestingly, the bombings occurred just a day after London discovered that the International Olympic Committee had chosen the city to host the 2012 Games. The terrorist attacks threw cold water on a city that was in a jubilant and celebratory mood.
It is against the backdrop of the dark anniversaries of Munich and the London Bombings that authorities work with a single-minded determination to ensure that the 2012 Olympic Games will not become yet another monument to terrorism.
Plaque in front of the Israeli athletes' quarters commemorating the victims of the Munich massacre which occurred on September 5–6 during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
Olympic Lockdown: Securing London and The Games
Britain’s security buildup for the 2012 Olympic Games is the largest domestic peacetime operation in the history of that nation.
At least 20,000 officers of the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) will be on duty to secure the Olympic Games, athletes, and visiting heads of state. The MPS will also be on guard against anti-Olympic demonstrations and extreme acts of civil disobedience like those of the 2011 riots that set parts of London ablaze. In addition to handling terrorism and protests, MPS will also perform their daily duty of combating ordinary street crime.
Metropolitan Police officers on patrol in London's Trafalgar Square.
Besides the MPS, an additional 9,000 officers from police departments in towns throughout the UK will be on duty in London during the Games.
The military will also play a substantial role in Olympic security measures and will dedicate a huge amount of resources.
MSgt. Lance Cheung, United States Air Force
A British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter aircraft flying over the skies of Iraq in 2006.
Tornado fighter jets of the Royal Air Force are currently patrolling the skies above and around London and will continue to do so for duration of the Olympics. The main role of the fighter aircraft will be to secure the capital and the Olympic Games against aerial threats.
Lynx helicopters from the Army and Royal Navy will also assist in providing 24/7 security coverage from above. The helicopters will fly and occasionally hover above the city with heavily armed snipers on board ready to intercept threats in the air, on the ground, or at sea.
Royal Navy warship in the Thames River and heavily armed Royal Marines patrolling the waters in speed boats and rafts will ensure that London is protected from any maritime-based threat.
The Army will make up the bulk of the military force by providing several thousand armed troops that will assist police with security duties on land. The soldiers will patrol London on foot and in military vehicles.
While there are at least 14,000 troops already slated to serve at the Olympics, local news sources inform that officials may assign several thousand more.
Not since World War Two has London experienced such a massive presence by the military.
Other security measures include drones that will zip around the skies above the capital, scores of police and military sharpshooters and perhaps the most controversial security measure of all – surface-to-air missile batteries on the rooftops of apartment buildings near the Olympic Park. Some of the missiles batteries have also been placed just outside of London in an effort to intercept any threatening aircraft before it gets too close to the city.
All security efforts will be coordinated out of New Scotland Yard, the famed headquarters of the MPS and the command center for this massive event.
Britain has already spent a billion pounds – the equivalent of $1.6 billion American dollars - on Olympic security measures.
Officials have pulled out all the stops and have vowed to leave nothing to chance when it comes to security.
While officials acknowledge that the security measures are extraordinary they also note that the Olympics are an extraordinary event that will attract not just the world’s most elite athletes but also numerous heads of state as well as millions of tourists and the collective attention of the world.
However, sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry. This was made painfully clear to British officials when the private security firm G4S dropped the ball on providing security officers to guard Olympic venues.
G4S, a UK-based security firm with a global reach was awarded a $350 million contract by the British government to provide 10,000 security guards to secure Olympic venues. Thus far, the security firm has fallen far short of its goal with only 4,000 guards trained and ready for duty at the Games.
British officials have issued an emergency call up order of an additional 4,000 troops to make up for the lack of manpower that G4S had originally said it would provide.
The government will also strip G4S of a substantial amount of the $350 million it paid to the firm.
While the residents of London are very familiar with security measures because of the city’s status as a global capital and terror target, the current efforts to secure the city border on the extreme. Most officials admit that the current state of heightened security will take some getting used to if you’re a Londoner.
Indeed, the security measures have tested the patience and steady resolve of even the most veteran of Londoners, some of whom happen to believe that the measures are rather excessive.
FBI Will Be Present In London To Protect American Athletes
Oddly, while many Londoners believe the security measures to be over the top, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) feels that British officials may not be doing enough.
The FBI, America’s lead law enforcement agency, has announced plans to send 500 special agents to London amidst “safety concerns” involving U.S. athletes as well as expressed concerns about the adequacy of Britain’s anti-terrorism Olympic security plans.
The move by the FBI and U.S. officials to dispatch agents to London to secure American athletes and the criticism of security measures has reportedly left British officials annoyed and deeply offended.
The sole focus of the FBI agents in London will be to protect the American athletes. They will not be involved in any of the general security measures to secure the Olympic Games and London.
The FBI and State Department sent agents to provide protection to the American Olympic contingent and athletes during the 2004 Games in Athens.
Tactical Exercises in London; SAS Lurks In Shadows Ready to Respond
In May 2011, the MPS’s elite squad of heavily armed officers, CO19, trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) – the internationally acclaimed counter-terrorism team of the British military. The training exercise took place at the Olympic Village in London and largely involved scenarios where one or both of those elite teams would launch a counter assault to stop an armed attack by terrorists on athletes and spectators at the venue.
The elite CO19 tactical unit of the London Metropolitan Police Service during training. Members undergo 65 days of intensive training including: advanced weapons handling training on a wider range of weaponry, abseiling techniques, maritime operations, dynamic entry techniques and in the use of distraction devices. They also undergo training to conduct operations in CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) environments.
The SAS reportedly traveled to Greece to participate in joint counter-terrorism exercises and provide guidance to EKAM, an elite police team, in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Though it has not been officially confirmed, some reports say that the SAS is currently keeping a quiet watch over the Olympic Games and London.
CO19 has been training for over a year to resolve a terrorist threat at sea as much as they have on land.
Earlier this year CO19 also engaged in a high-profile tactical exercise with Royal Marines on the River Thames. The exercise involved CO19 storming a hijacked ferry with tactical support from the Royal Marines.
While there will be an extremely heavy military presence at the Games, officials have noted that security efforts will be led by the MPS’s New Scotland Yard which means that police officials will get first crack at any terrorist incident and take the lead in an investigation with the military serving in a support function but capable of taking over if the MPS are overwhelmed or lack the ability and resources to resolve a crisis.
Pressure On Intel Agencies To Secure Games; No Guarantee Of Security
While counter-terrorism teams, battleships, fighter jets, armed troops and rooftop missiles may represent the impressive muscle and visible portion of the security effort, intelligence agencies represent the brains and hidden hand behind the operation.
The intelligence agencies are tasked with using their analytical minds to investigate and chase down any leads that may reveal a threat to the games both at home and abroad.
However, securing the Olympic games is proving to be a headache even for the combined might of Britain's spy agencies and MPS investigators at New Scotland Yard.
Aerial view of the Olympic Park looking south west towards London.
Several MPs or Members of Parliament have told the BBC that Britain’s intelligence agencies have been under heavy pressure to intercept and stop any threats to the Olympic Games and London this Summer.
Both the MI5 and MI6 as well as the Intelligence and Security Committee or ISC (which scrutinizes the work of the two aforementioned agencies)
In its annual report, the ISC says
We recognize that the Security Service (MI5) has taken all possible measures to make available the necessary resources during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but remain concerned at the risk that is being taken in some areas and the vulnerability of the UK at this critical period.
The ISC report also notes the burden of having to check at least 540,000 applications for accreditation from athletes, officials and volunteers to identify national security threats.
MI5 has had to brief some 200 foreign intelligence agencies who are sending representatives to London.
Personnel in all three intelligence agencies are working extended hours and have imposed restrictions on leave.
Earlier this month, police stopped a potential terrorist attack when they arrested seven Islamic extremists.
The suspects were arrested by police in West Midlands, a suburban county just outside of London after authorities stopped a vehicle on a highway because it was uninsured and discovered various high-caliber weaponry and ammunition.
Counter-terrorism investigators in London are involved in the ongoing probe and have informed the news media that the seven suspects were all British nationals. Authorities do not believe that the seven had any links to international terrorist organizations.
While investigators believe that the alleged terror plot by the extremists involved targets in London and possibly even throughout the UK itself, they do not believe the Olympics were among the targets.
Because of the weaponry and ammunition authorities fear the suspects may have been planning an assassination or a Mumbai-style attack.
The arrests came just days before the seventh anniversary of the 2005, July 7 terrorist bombings.
Jonathan Evans, who heads MI5, the internal counter-intelligence service, revealed in a rare speech made last month that the security threats facing the nation as it attempts to secure the Games are "substantial."
The Games present an attractive target for our enemies.
Despite the dogged determination of the entire MI5 agency and MI6, Evans admitted that there is never a guarantee of security when it comes to securing a special event as massive as the Olympic Games.
There is no such thing as guaranteed security. … The dog you haven't seen may turn out to be the one that bites you.