An Olympic-sized police state

July 31, 2012

There's surveillance around every corner at London's Olympic Games. Eamonn McCann explains why they're the deadliest game in town.

THEY HAVEN'T armed the traffic wardens with Uzis yet, but the way things are going, don't rule it out. Olympic preparations already in place include an aircraft carrier parked on the Thames, surveillance drones flittering in the skies and an 11-mile electrified fence around a "safe zone" reinforced with squads of special forces and 55 teams of attack dogs.

Add to this the ground-to-air missiles on the roofs of blocks of flats, sonic weapons that can disperse crowds by "spraying" head-splitting pain, Typhoon jets and Lynx helicopters revved up and ready for takeoff, teams of Marines on 24-hour standby and much else besides.

Beijing didn't have drones, or missiles, or a carrier afloat on the Yongding. Maybe China is that bit more relaxed and liberal than London these days--or just less in need of spooking its citizens into nervous surrender of basic rights.

The number of troops involved in securing the Olympics will be greater than the forces the UK has had deployed at any one time in Afghanistan. Their chain of command "merges" with the management structures of the private security firm G4S. Including police officers, total security personnel will top 50,000.

A British soldier patrols an Olympic site
A British soldier patrols an Olympic site

"Brand protection teams" will make regular sweeps of the streets to make sure no phony Olympic T-shirts, or fake Boris voodoo dolls, are foisted on gullible visitors.

Del Boy wouldn't survive these games. No, seriously. He really wouldn't.

This isn't just Britain's biggest-ever sporting event; it's the biggest-ever peacetime display of security and military firepower.

The extent of the clampdown that the guardians of the games believe they are authorized to impose emerged last week when management at one Olympic venue, the O2 at Greenwich, defended civilian employees who had invoked "terrorist law" in attempting to detain a reporter for taking video pictures on public land with the venue in the background.

Responding to protests from the National Union of Journalists, an O2 spokesman declared that "our security staff's approach and handling of the situation was entirely appropriate."

THE OLYMPIC operation has also involved a remarkable takeover of areas of day-to-day London life. It was a condition of bidding for the games that "candidate cities are required to obtain control of all billboard advertising, city transport advertising, airport advertising, etc., for the duration of the games and the month preceding the games to support the marketing program."

The demand was met by the London Olympic Games Act 2006, introduced by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and passed at Westminster without opposition.

Units of the brand protection force will patrol the sidelines at the athletics and football, ringside at the boxing, poolside at the swimming and so on, to ensure that no competitor or official "wears clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the [official] manufacturers."

The brand protectors will take a no-nonsense view of any British athlete who shapes up to renege on the pledge that all have been required to sign to wear Adidas kit "at all times during the Games period when you are in, or at, an Olympic venue."

A number of British medal hopes, including Mark Cavendish and Mo Farah, have personal sponsorship deals with Adidas' deadly rival, Nike. Fortunately, teams of lawyers paid as much per-second as Usain Bolt, managed to avert disaster by negotiating an agreement whereby Nike competitors will wear their own-brand shoes--defined for the duration as "technical equipment"--while competing but, if they earn a podium place, will step up to receive their medals barefooted.

BP--owners of the Deepwater Horizon rig which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history--is the games' official "sustainability partner."

IT services at all venues will be provided by Atos. The company is "particularly proud" of its additional sponsorship of the Paralympic Games. Atos has faced some negative coverage recently for the way it carried out re-assessment of people on disability benefits.

At the heart of the Olympic Park will be the biggest of four new-built McDonald's, a 1,500-seat facility capable, apparently, of feeding 5,000 finely honed athletes a grease-burger each and every hour. And so on.

There is no indication on the official website of when the ground-to-air missiles, the electric fence, the drone squadrons, etc, will be decommissioned following the games, nor of any schedule for withdrawing from civilian employees of private security companies their assumed right to interpret and operate emergency--"terrorist"--law.

The enhancement of the health and environmental credentials of BP, Atos, McDonald's, etc, will likewise linger. This, I suppose, is what they mean by "legacy."

First published in the Belfast Telegraph.

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