/ 15 November 2011

‘The Olympics will be secure: we’ll get missiles’

Britain might deploy surface-to-air missiles to protect London during the 2012 Olympics, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Monday, shortly after the government rejected reports of US security fears.

Hammond told lawmakers that “all necessary measures” would be taken to protect the London games following the reports that the United States was set to send 1 000 of its own agents to the sporting event.

“I can assure you that all necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of the London Olympic Games will be taken, including — if the advice of the military is that it is required — appropriate ground-to-air defences,” Hammond said.

He was responding to a query by his predecessor Liam Fox who said surface-to-air missiles had been deployed at Olympic Games since Atlanta in 1996.

Earlier on Monday the Guardian newspaper said US officials had raised “repeated concerns” about security at the London Games and were planning to deploy 1 000 of their own agents, including 500 from the FBI.

The paper added the London Organising Committee for the Games had underestimated the number of security staff it would need at the 32 Games venues, with 21 000 guards now required rather than the initial figure of 10 000.

A spokesperson for the Home Office, or interior ministry, insisted that security planning was “on track” and that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had “full confidence” in the blueprint.

“Security planning is on track and funding has been protected. The government is committed to delivering a safe and secure Games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy,” the spokesperson said.

‘Utmost confidence’
Meanwhile the US embassy in London stressed it had the “utmost confidence” in the security arrangements for the Olympic Games.

In a letter to the Guardian, the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires Barbara Stephenson said it was “entirely normal and prudent for the US to engage in discussions with UK officials about security arrangements” and there was an “excellent” relationship with London’s Metropolitan Police.

She said: “The United States embassy has the utmost confidence in the British government’s arrangements to ensure safety and security for the Olympic Games … The US team is one of the largest participating in the Games, and thousands of American tourists are expected to attend Olympic events … It is, therefore, entirely normal and prudent for the US to engage in discussions with UK officials about security arrangements for the Olympic Games … The US has established an excellent collaborative relationship with the metropolitan police … Our Olympics coordinating office works closely with Assistant Police Commissioner Chris Allison on security issues, and with a range of UK officials from other offices charged with guaranteeing Olympic security.”

She added: “The truth is that any US security presence must be, has been, and will be coordinated closely with the Her Majesty’s government and with UK counterparts.”

In October, British officials rejected reports that the United States had offered to send its own aircraft carrier to be stationed off the British coast during the Olympics.

Security has been a key concern for all Games hosts and organisers ever since the 1972 Olympics in Munich where nine kidnapped Israeli athletes and four of their captors from the Palestinian Black September group, as well as a German policeman, were killed in a gun battle. — AFP