July 25, 2012
TSG IntelBrief: Is London Ready?
As of late-July 2012, the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games are just days away and the world is turning its attention to the spectacle in London. While most of the interest will understandably be focused on athletic competition, a small number of viewers will have a more nefarious reason for tuning in: the Olympic Games provide an unparalleled opportunity for violent extremists to exploit the global coverage through terrorist attacks designed to promote radical ideologies.
At this point, security elements for the 2012 Summer Olympics are well into the Operational Phase of readiness. This means command posts are staffed, resources and personnel are pre-staged, and the time for training and preparation is over. At this critical juncture, two questions occupy the thoughts of those responsible for security:
1. Were all of the potential vulnerabilities that could result in a security breach accurately identified?
2. If there is an attack, what are the highest probability scenarios in terms of targets, methods, scope, and timing?
In the search for potential "models of violence" that might be credibly adapted to pose a potential threat — those that offer meaningful insights into how an attack might unfold at the Games — there is utility in examining scenarios that have both a direct and, just as importantly, an indirect connection to the problem at hand. Toward that end, recent headline-grabbing violent events of relevance to security readiness at the Olympic Games point to possible answers:
• Within the past week, two mass shootings have occurred in the United States: the first incident occurred at a local bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the second at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. In both instances, a lone gunmen entered a crowded establishment and opened fire (the former involving an assault rifle and the latter a shotgun, assault rifle, and handgun). Both attacks occurred after midnight and the resulting carnage included multiple fatalities, scores of injured patrons, and terrified communities.
• On July 15th, the president of the Libyan Olympic Committee was kidnapped from his vehicle in central Tripoli. This kidnapping is alleged to be politically motivated by those who remain sympathetic to the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.
• In early July, the United Kingdom-based security company, G4S, announced that it would be unable to fulfill its contractual agreement to deliver the 10,000 vetted and trained security personnel needed to monitor the 2012 London Olympic Games. In response, the British armed forces have been placed in charge of security and will fill the gap with military personnel. While this helps to resolve a severe security shortfall, it also generates negative political capital, with the potential "military camp" atmosphere of potential propaganda value to violent extremist groups.
• In May, a worker was able to evade detection in smuggling an inert explosive devise into the London Olympic Stadium just hours before the Grand Opening of the main Olympic venue.
• On July 18th, a suicide bomber carried out a terror attack on a passenger bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Burgas Airport in Bulgaria. The attack resulted in seven fatalities and 34 injured victims.
• And finally, in mid-July, two G4S security guards who were to be assigned to protect football players during the Olympic Games were arrested on suspicion of being illegal immigrants (with reports in the media highlighting the fact that the two individuals were of Middle Eastern decent).
Adopting the Terrorist's Perspective
From the terrorist's perspective, the above headlines offer invaluable intelligence to support attack planning. A commercial establishment — such as a bar, restaurant, theater or shopping mall — presents a soft target where large numbers of people are monitored and protected by only minimal security. A second scenario that a terrorist group would find of interest would focus on potential targets that could be intercepted as they transit by car or bus. Yet another vulnerability that might be exploited are the potential security gaps that exist within the formal screening procedures for employees and for materials being carried into the venues.
The array of potential attack scenarios is daunting, including the option of employing an armed assailant operating as an active shooter intent on killing as many people as possible; the deployment of an improvised explosive device in the form of a suicide bomber or package bomb; or an abduction with the aim of securing one or more hostages. Each of these attack scenarios are viable options that can be carried out by a single individual — the so-called lone-wolf terrorist — or by a group, which makes possible a more sophisticated, and lethal, attack.
For violent extremists — from religious zealots to political anarchists — the metrics of success for an attack are as simple as they are grisly: the body count (that is, those killed or injured) achieved during an attack along with the resulting media coverage the attack generates. With over 15,000 print media representatives standing by in London and 24/7 television broadcast coverage of the Games, such a major event offers the terrorist an optimal opportunity to carry out an assault on what would literally be the world stage. And the challenge of interdicting any one of the threats is, of course, exacerbated by a shortage in trained security personnel.
Balancing Security and Goodwill
London Olympic security officials can — and should — carefully examine these recent events from a seasoned tactical perspective in terms of how they might inform target selection and planning requirements for a violent extremist contemplating an attack at or near the Olympic Games. Beyond the official Olympic venues, careful attention must also be paid to those locations and activities that have some manner of connection to the events and that will undoubtedly attract large numbers of people. Frequent checkpoints must be established that are staffed with trained law enforcement personnel rather than soldiers dressed in camouflage. Vehicle movement and motorcades along with mass transit systems must be diligently monitored. A vital corollary effort must involve the establishment of a robust public outreach program designed to enhance security awareness and vigilance on the part of the Olympic spectators. This effort needs to be accompanied by the capability to rapidly and accurately assess and respond to incident reporting.
The substantial challenge in orchestrating these security measures is the reality that the UK must do so within the overarching requirement to foster the Olympic Games' long-standing goal of generating goodwill among people and nations. Planners must therefore operate with the sense that the Games are a sporting event, not a security operation. In contrast to China in 2008, the UK carries the additional responsibility of delivering a safe and secure Summer Olympic Games that also symbolizes a free and democratic society. (The same level of state control exercised by the Chinese government in halting all vehicle traffic in and around Beijing in the weeks leading up to the 2008 Games — with the goal of reducing the suffocating smog that blankets the city — also facilitates far more effective, albeit oppressive security regimes than would be possible elsewhere.)
London clearly has an exceptionally difficult task over the next three weeks. Behind the medal award ceremonies and the individual stories of stunning success and tragic failure in competition, officials will be struggling to protect the competitors, the supporting personnel, the spectators, and even the spirit of the Games without turning the event into a symbol of military force.
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