THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Securing the Games

JOHN HOWSE July 27 1987
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Securing the Games

JOHN HOWSE July 27 1987

Securing the Games

THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Since the massacre of 11 Israelis by Palestinian gunmen at Munich in 1972, the threat of terrorism has haunted the Olympic Games. Indeed, the training of security personnel for the Games is now as complex and sophisticated as that of the athletes. Last week, the Calgary Police Service and the RCMP outlined some details of their preparations for the 1988 Winter Games and the massive security network they will direct from a joint security command centre on the second floor of the downtown police headquarters. Said city police Supt. L.A. (Len) Esler: “We are not going to disclose the nuts and bolts of this operation. But if terrorists are thinking of coming here, we would like them to know we are prepared.”

The creation of the joint command force underlines the security challenge posed by the Games. For terrorists seeking a global platform, the Olympics— which attract more members of the media than they do athletes—offer an inviting target. The Calgary Games organizing committee (OCO) expects about 2,000 athletes, but no fewer than 2,200 accredited journalists—in addition to the 2,500 employees of the official television broadcasters, whose coverage will reach an estimated global audience of 1.6 billion.

The city police will secure events held in Calgary and the RCMP will be responsible for security outside the city. But all security matters will be channelled through the downtown command post, where computers connected to Interpol data banks provide a checklist of suspected terrorists. Said Esler: “There is a constant overall threat assessment under way. And we will assess the security required for individual cases.” Security checks have begun on the more than 10,000 employees and volunteers who will work in the athlete villages and the Olympic locations at Mount Allan, Canmore and Calgary.

The police forces are also concerned with the security of International Olympic Committee officials, heads of state and leaders of national Olympic committees during their visits to Calgary. Although no bodyguards from foreign countries will be permitted to carry weapons in Canada, in September the first of 1,000 police volunteers will begin training sessions in basic security, awareness of authority, public relations and how to deal with possible defectors. And normal police training will be suspended in favor of crash courses in Olympic-type security.

The fact that there were no terrorist incidents at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games provides the Calgary security forces with a valuable example. Last May security experts—including officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and federal immigration department specialists in terrorism—conducted a three-day symposium in Calgary for RCMP and police officers from Calgary and across Canada on what they might expect next February. Said Sgt. Richard Meraz, who headed the LAPD Olympics antiterrorism unit: “Police here are doing a damn good job on security. I’m really impressed. The key is tight security. In Los Angeles, we definitely deterred terrorism.”

Although Calgary police refuse to confirm the size of the Games security force, four seven-man tactical squads— equipped with Remington .308 riflesare now honing their marksmanship on Calgary weapons ranges. The squads will take up 24-hour duty in late January when the athletes and media begin arriving for the Games. The competitors will be housed behind high security fences in specially guarded Olympic villages at the University of Calgary and in Canmore, 100 km west of Calgary. The media will stay either at a complex of mobile-home-like structures or at a townhouse development, and will pass through strict security checks there, at Games’ locations and at media centres.

The Calgary police’s uniformed security force—bolstered by hundreds of RCMP officers from posts across the country—will include a large number of plainclothes officers. And to free Mounties for Games duty, Alberta courts will reschedule criminal trials set for February. Explained Barbara Lacroix, public affairs officer for the Alberta attorney general’s department: “Criminal trials will be replaced by civil actions on the docket. We are not closing the courts, just adjusting throughout the province for the RCMP’s presence in Calgary.”

There is no plan to involve the Canadian Armed Forces, except as backup in the event of a disaster. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the first summer Games held after the Munich massacre, more than 9,000 troops guarded athletes and spectators. Said Insp. Gordon Shaw, Olympic security co-ordinator: “The military are highly visible and take away from the esthetics of the Games.” The deployment of the military in Montreal also contributed to the 1976 Games’ $100-million security bill. OCO’s security budget is a relatively modest $9.2 million. Explained Shaw: “Our games are one-third the size of the summer Games. And we have a different strategy toward security.” For the next seven months the joint force will rehearse and refine that strategy. As Calgary police spokesman Grant Howard put it: “From a media point of view, security is almost nonexistent once the Games begin. If all goes well, it will not be the Games’ big story.”

— JOHN HOWSE in Calgary