London on Olympic alert
Fighter jets thunder above the English countryside.
Missiles stand ready. And Big Brother is watching like never before. The London Olympics is certainly no ordinary games.
Not since World War II have Britain and the United States teamed up for such a massive security operation on British soil. Hundreds of American intelligence, security and law enforcement officials are flying across the Atlantic for the games, which begin on July 27, while dozens of Interpol officers will also be deployed.
The unique collaboration is rooted in common threats the partners have faced since the 9/11 terror attacks in the US and the deadly suicide bombings on July 7, 2005 in London.
Britain was America’s closest ally in Afghanistan and Iraq, making it a prime target of Islamic terror groups. And, although other Olympics have taken place since 9/11, London poses a different breed of security challenge.
“I’m confident that there is more than adequate security here for these games,” says Louis Susman, the US Ambassador.
“That said, we live in a tumultuous world, whether that be in New York or London.” Intelligence officials say there has been an expected increase in chatter among extremist groups but there are still no specific or credible threats to the London games. The terror level is labeled substantial, a notch below severe and what it has been for much of the past decade. A substantial threat level indicates that an attack is a strong possibility.
“There is a perception in some quarters that the terrorist threat to this country has evaporated,” said Jonathan Evans, head of Britain’s domestic spy agency of MI5. “Bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan is under serious pressure and there hasn’t been a major terror attack here for seven years. (But) in back rooms and in cars and on the streets of this country, there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here.”
The potential threats to the London Games are broad and diverse - a lone wolf attacker such as Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik; a possible non-Asian Muslim who could slip by security with a European passport; a coordinated strike like 9/11 or a debilitating cyber-attack.
And the overall security numbers are staggering. The games will be protected by about 12,000 police officers during peak times and 23,700 security staff - a number that includes 13,500 troops on standby. A no-fly zone will also be established over Olympic venues.
“London is a proven terrorist target and it is the first time the summer Olympics have been operated in a post 7/7 environment in a place that isn’t a totalitarian state,” said Ian Horseman Sewell, whose security firm G4S is training Olympics staff.
“From a security perspective, London is breaking new ground.”