August 7, 2012

Warships, ground-to-air missiles and drones – Britain is not gearing up for war, but for London’s Summer Olympics. The preparations are calling on all corners of the nation’s defences. But, many fear the measures will pose serious risks to privacy.

The British military plans to deploy surface-to-air missiles at six sites around London as part of a vast security operation for the July 27-Aug. 12 games.

Residents of a London apartment tower went to court in a bid to stop their rooftop being used as a missile base during the Olympic Games, saying the unprecedented deployment could make the building a terrorist target.

Their lawyer, Marc Willers, told the High Court that the residents had “a fully justified fear that installation or deployment of the missile system on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower gives rise to the additional risk that the tower itself may become the focus of a terrorist attack.”

They claim the missiles breach their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects an individual’s “right to private life and peaceful enjoyment of their home.”

There will also be warships anchored on the Thames; attack helicopters on standby, and ground-to-air missiles ready to launch. All that, before you even get to the security on the ground. Such measures, however, may not only turn the capital into a city under siege, but simply prove to be ineffective.

Nick Pickles, director for Big Brother Watch says: “I think it’ll be an absolute tragedy for Britain if the largest part of the Olympics legacy was a surveillance legacy, where we install all this equipment in the name of national security and when the Olympics are over we keep using it”.

Security is being tightened in and around London in the lead up to the 2012 Olympic games. UK officials spared no expense in trying to turn London into an impenetrable fortress- or at least making it appear so. With the horror of the 7/7 bombings carried out by al-Qaeda still lingering in the minds of Londoners along with the reality that the Olympics have long been an alluring target for terrorist groups-sometimes with tragic results-it is understandable that security officials will spare no expense in guarding the games. Moreover, it is not surprising that Olympic game attendees will happily sacrifice some of London’s charm and perhaps even some civil liberties in exchange for the comfort of what seems to be a secure environment…even if that means rolling out the 5,000-volt electric fences, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and surface-to-air missiles.

London’s added security measures include:
As many as 48,000 security forces. 13,500 troops. Surface-to-air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment buildings. A sonic weapon that disperses crowds by creating ‘head-splitting pain.’ Unmanned drones peering down from the skies. A safe zone, cordoned off by an 18-kilometre electrified fence, ringed with trained agents and 55 teams of attack dogs…parking an aircraft carrier right in the Thames…‘scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control [centers] and checkpoints.’

So far, the cost of this operation is totaling nearly $1.6 billion. With the threat of a terrorist attack topping the list of concerns, can these measures be successful in countering or deterring a terrorist attack? What good are missile defense batteries against suicide bombers and gunmen?

Perhaps the reason for the public show of force might be rooted in a doctrine prevalent throughout the Cold War and more recently embraced by counterterrorism (CT) officials: deterrence. Deterrence may conjure up images of the Cold War and the theory of mutually assured destruction. Such a dated concept seems to have very limited, if any, applicability for deterring a terrorist attack.
It’s not just the costs or the incredible invasion into people’s privacy. It’s the powers being given to police under the 2006 “London Olympic Games Act” which empowers not only the army and police, but also private security forces to deal with “security issues” using physical force.

These “security issues” have been broadly defined to include everything from “terrorism” to peaceful protesters, to labour unions, to people selling bootleg Olympic products on the streets, to taking down any corporate presence that doesn’t have the Olympic seal of approval. To help them with the last part, there will be “brand protection teams” set loose around the city. These “teams” will also operate inside Olympic venues to make sure no one “wears clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturers who are official sponsors.

There is no reason that the Olympics have to be this way. There is no reason that an international celebration of sports can’t take place without drones and aircraft carriers. There is no reason athletes from across the globe can’t join together and showcase their physical potential.

But the Olympics aren’t about sport any more than the Iraq war was about democracy. The Olympics are not about athletes. And they’re definitely not about bringing together “the community of nations.” They are a neo-liberal Trojan Horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.

London organizers have tried to play down fears that the Olympic Village would be a siege city, but with such a massive security operation the planned Olympic legacy of international friendship may not be the one that’s actually left.

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