The London Olympics will see the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces ever seen in the UK since the second world war. Around 13,500 troops will be deployed for the event. This figure is more than the number of British troops currently at war in Afghhanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000.
During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadia and opening and closing ceremonies. Royal Airforce, RAF, Typhoon Eurofighters will also fly over London. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80 million, 5,000-volt electric fence.
Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. They also allow Olympic security personnel to deal forcibly with the display of any commercial material that is deemed to challenge the complete management of London as a “clean city” to be branded for the global TV audience wholly by prime corporate sponsors, including McDonald’s, Visa and Dow Chemical.
London is also being wired up with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints. These will intensify the sense of lockdown in a city which is already a byword across the world for remarkably intensive surveillance.
Many such systems, deliberately installed to exploit unparalleled security budgets and relatively little scrutiny or protest, have been designed to linger long after the athletes and VIPs have left. Already, the Dorset police are proudly boasting that their new number-plate recognition cameras, built for sailing events, are allowing them to catch criminals more effectively.
The main security contractor for the London Olympics – G4S, more familiar under its old Group 4 moniker – is the world’s largest security company. For the event, it would have recruited 10,000 new staff many of whom would be Nigerians who favour security work. Beyond its £130 million Olympic security contracts, G4S operates the world’s largest private security force – 630,000 people – taking up a myriad of outsourced contracts. It secures prisons, asylum detention centres, oil and gas installations, VIPs, embassies, airports, including those in Doncaster and Baghdad, and infrastructure, and operates in 125 countries.