Less than two years left to the opening day of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016, and apparently, there is no urgency. In fact, "time is short and the task is great". The name of the game at this point is prioritization of resources. Based on analysis and risk assessment, the concept and security system shall be determined, and at the same time, early on, there has to be a special focus on the training of personnel designated to secure the events.
The Olympics, by its very nature, is an attractive target for attack for a wide range of opponents and evildoers, at both international and local levels. The murder of eleven Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 demonstrated the enormous global resonance such an event earns due to the presence of media outlets from every country around the world. The Munich attack since then accompanies the global sporting events, as a demonstration of the difficult results of gaps in security (even in the security terms that were common in the seventies). As a result, and in parallel to the improving capabilities of terrorism, the operational security of the Olympics and major international sports events, have received in recent decades high national and international priority, both in terms of cooperation between the security and intelligence services and the allocation of resources at the level of the host country in order to prepare its safety.
The enormous Order of Battle assigned to secure such events, along with the acquisition of many technological means and defense systems for the security of far, and near circles, require anomalous resource allocation. The price tags of securing these Games carry enormous figures, and cause difficult arguments in the host countries about the justifications of such huge budgets. 2004 Athens Olympics, in which the (almost imaginary) amount of $ 1.2 billion was invested in securing the games, is used by the critics as an example of a failed conduct which ultimately – along with the rest of wasteful spending at the Olympics – had a factual part in the economic crisis that Greece is in to this day. In the Beijing Olympics, similar amounts were invested in security (the Chinese authorities have not published official figures), but it did not prevent the two attacks that took place in Beijing during the Olympics. However, on the other hand, there is the paradox that says we do not know how many attacks were prevented because of the security, and in fact, these two attacks reinforce the assumption that the investment in security was justified.
Even the security costs of the 2012 London Olympics were among the highest in the history of games, totaling no less than $ 860 million. Some say that the willingness of the British to allocate such a high budget was stimulated by the fact that in the day after London was declared as the host, occurred the traumatic 07/07/05 attacks in means of transport around London, accompanied by warnings aimed at the Olympics. Either way, no less than 50,000 security personnel secured the games. It should be noted that this figure includes 18,000 troops the British authorities had to add at the last minute due to the failure of the security company – which was in charge of securing the event – to obtain an Order of Battle of 10,000 security personnel. Needless to say, this created a serious gap in the level of security as well as in the level of the service, caused by gaps in training of the manpower called at the last minute.
When it comes to security costs, one should mention the Winter Games that were held this year in Sochi. Much was made of the most expensive Winter Olympics in history (51 billion dollars!!!). The exact cost of security has not been published, but given the staggering number of security personnel stationed to secure the events (the official number is 100,000 people, but estimates range around 150,000), the cost can be assessed as at least similar to that of the London Olympics. According to the Russian view, it had justification: Beyond the many warnings about attacks by Islamic terrorists in the winter games, there is no doubt that they had used the Sochi Games for the most massive presentation of force led by the FSB (Russian Security Service), which leads the country's antiterrorism activity. Even in this case, in Russia there were quite a few arguments against the "grandiose and disproportionate expenses".
In Brazil, host of the next Olympics, there is already difficult internal critique (for which we have seen a promo in the violent demonstrations before and during the World Cup) against the Games, and as part of them – the security budget, as a wasteful element that requires huge investment of money, while the economy struggles and as the prices for public services rise. Even when considering the relevant threats – and there are a few – you cannot dismiss the claims regarding the need for proper prioritization of resources and proper construction of the security force for the events. It is likely that a terrorist threat from the Global Jihad inspired by ISIS is a high priority for those responsible for the security of the Olympics in Brazil, although, to date, there are no signs of ISIS activity in the continent since Latin America is considered a traditional bastion of Shia (as Hezbollah and Co.) and not Sunni Salafism.
Having said that, there is no doubt that this threat should be treated, as well as other threats at hand. With all of the above, a cost-benefit equation depends on quality; hence, the huge resources investment in security is not necessarily a recipe for efficient and effective security. The distribution of the security budget components is not generally published, but there is no doubt that a large portion of the expenses is related to the national security system, which is usually operated by branches of the military (air, navy and land) and the various intelligence services. This inevitably leaves a smaller share of the budget for achieving a high level of security surrounding the event itself, the Olympic Village, the delegations and so on.
Asserted from the above, a prioritizing process is required in the creation of a professional security system that will enable high level of security over time – even in the Olympics, that lasts a relatively short period of time, there is a need to cope and prevent "operational readiness decrease/voltage drop" among the employees involved – in order to meet the different threats.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, illustrates how critical are the preliminary steps for setting the appropriate security system, the vocational training, the procedures for dealing with emergencies, and practicing for vigilance conservation over time. Noon on the ninth day of games, despite an anonymous phone call was received at the police 25 minutes before the explosion at the Olympic Park; the audience was not evacuated. Moreover, even when the explosive device was discovered by chance by a security guard (which later was suspected – wrongly – in planting the bomb), the response was delayed and eventually the device exploded in crowded areas, killing two people and wounding another 116. A review of the Olympics security systems in recent years shows the notable fact that the security layouts are technology-intensive. It is not always the appropriate technology to deal with the relevant threats and various cases the selected technologies caused clumsiness and operational difficulties.
There is no doubt that there is an advantage in combining smart technologies, especially those that allow rapid detection and identification that support decision-making, but it is important to carefully avoid making the technology everything. Due to lack of space, this article did not address the complex components of response and deployment of the security system, which is based on intelligence and activities of warnings, deterrence and prevention, which surely must be an integral part of the security circles. An effective security must be proactive, while initiating actions in order to deal with future threats. Ultimately, security is expensive. The fact that policy makers and decision makers are willing to accept such high costs indicates the depth of understanding of the unbearable cost, not just in aspects of money, of lack of security or a serious security failure.
Against this background, the importance of the selection of the best personnel and its optimal training is reinforced, since ultimately, the human factor is key to success
The writer is a former head of division in the ISA and currently Senior Vice President, Homeland Security, at Maydex AG, specializing in critical infrastructures security.