LONDON – The rooftop missiles might have scared them off. Then again, it might have been the imposing warship or the army of undercover agents. Whatever the case, London’s Summer Olympics have been terror-free so far.
The success of the Olympic security operation, however, was not an accident. It involved years of planning and steady diligence.
A day after Britain won the Olympic bid in 2005, homegrown suicide bombers struck during London’s morning rush-hour. Because of it, Britain’s security, intelligence and eavesdropping agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – have since received more money, manpower and equipment and thwarted dozens of terror plots, a major factor they say has helped to keep the games safe.
But with post-Olympics celebrations stretching into the week and the Paralympics not wrapping up until September, Britain’s security officials say their job is far from over.
Hundreds of personnel have been told to forget about vacations until next month.
And the private security contractor for the Olympics, G4S, says some 5,000 guards will be on hand for the Aug. 29-Sept. 9 Paralympics.
“There is an ever-present risk in this country and that is something we will have to be aware of,” Britain’s policing minister Nick Herbert said Friday.
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 sizable Muslim population, more than 1 million of whom have ties to Pakistan.
Some minor incidents did happen – an Olympics security trainee was charged with making a bomb threat ahead of the games, three Muslim men were charged for heckling soldiers guarding Olympic venues over Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and a G4S guard spat at a serviceman. And weeks before the games, G4S had to admit a shortfall of security workers, but the military stepped in to make up the difference.
Although there were no credible or specific plots aimed at the Olympics, police arrested dozens of terror suspects prior to the games. Many of those suspects have since been released.
A senior Iraqi intelligence official said that about one month before the opening of the London Olympics, Iraqi authorities provided Britain with information about contacts between terrorist groups in Iraq and the U.K. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
British officials got an expected an increase in tips and intelligence ahead of the Games, but some of the tips never came to anything.
“Over the years, we’ve managed to make Britain a difficult place to operate in if you’re a terrorist,” a British security official told the AP on condition of anonymity. “The security around the games has also been an off-putting factor. But the threat still is, and has been, real.”