LONDON – Fighter jets thunder above the English countryside. Missiles stand ready. And Big Brother is watching like never before.
The London Olympics are 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 that begin July 27. Some will even be embedded with their British counterparts, sharing critical intelligence and troubleshooting potential risks. Dozens of Interpol officers will also be deployed.
The unique collaboration is rooted in common threats the partners have faced since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S. and Britain’s own deadly suicide bombings in 2005.
Britain was America’s closest ally in Afghanistan and Iraq, making it a prime target of Islamic terror groups. And dozens of recent terror plots, including the 2006 plot to blow up nearly a dozen trans-Atlantic airliners, have been hatched within Britain’s sizeable Muslim population, more than 1 million of whom have ties to Pakistan.
Although other Olympics have taken place since 9/11 – Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, Beijing and Vancouver – London poses a different breed of security challenge.
I’m confident that there is more than adequate security here for these Games, Louis Susman, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., told The Associated Press. That said, we live in a tumultuous world, whether that be in New York or London.
Up to 1 million visitors are expected for the Games, putting added strain on border security agents at airports like London’s Heathrow, which has been criticized for its long lines and lack of staff to screen those arriving from other countries.
On site, about 300,000 people are expected to flow into Olympic Park in east London each day during peak times.
The overall security numbers are staggering. The Games will be protected by 12,000 police officers during peak times and 23,700 security staff – a number that includes 13,500 troops on standby, which is more than the 9,500 British troops currently in Afghanistan.
More than 100,000 people have applied for jobs at Olympics venues, being vetted for employment history and possible criminal backgrounds. The more rigorous checks are done by the government for accreditation to get into the Games, according to Ian Horseman Sewell with G4S, a global company providing most of the training and security staff for the Olympics.
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, Sewell said, referring to the 2005 suicide bombings in London and the 2008 Beijing Games. From a security perspective, London is breaking new ground.
Britain is already known for its 4 million closed-circuit television cameras. Even more cameras have been installed at the Olympic Park.
Advanced facial and image recognition software will be used to identify suspects and connect multiple crime scenes. Cameras will be used to capture suspicious behavior. And special drones will be used for crowd surveillance, according to a salesman at an Israeli company who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Hundreds of public transport vehicles and VIP buses being used in the London Games have already been equipped so authorities can tell whether a driver is acting erratically – something that might happen in a hijacking.
Authorities will also be able to stop a vehicle remotely or keep it going at a certain speed – technology that could be useful if a terrorist were carrying explosives and threatening to crash a bus full of athletes into a crowded venue.
The British military has already made headlines with the weapons it will have available – surface-to-air missiles, RAF Typhoon combat aircraft and an aircraft carrier docked on the Thames, the river that cuts across London close to several Olympic sites.