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Olympic-Sized Security Fears

While the British security services have yet to warn of a specific threat to the Games, it’s likely that potential attacks may already have been averted, with several arrests having been made in recent weeks. Six people were detained in a series of raids across London, including one man who lived a half-mile from the Olympic Stadium and a white Muslim convert. Seven others were arrested after guns and ammunition were found in a car stopped by police in northern England.

Police haven’t linked any of the arrests directly to the Olympics, but even if a connection were to be established it would be understandable if the authorities were reluctant to publicize it, for fear of scaring off tourists, spectators, and perhaps even competitors, or of inspiring copycat plots.

With the Games providing such a tempting target, you would expect those responsible for security to be well on top of things at this stage. But while the Olympic Park will be protected by the biggest peacetime security operation ever seen in Britain, and the recent arrests suggest that parts of the security apparatus are operating efficiently, the plans have been beset by a succession of foul-ups and controversies.

A couple of weeks ago it emerged that G4S, the private company tasked with providing security for the Games, had failed to recruit several thousand of the temporary staff it had contracted to provide. Additional police and troops have been brought in to plug the gaps. While the failure is an embarrassment to G4S, the Games organizers, and the government, the fact that dedicated professionals are replacing private staff is something of a silver lining, given concerns over the caliber of some of the people G4S had hired and the level of training they’ve been receiving.

One whistleblower claimed that operators of X-ray machines were routinely failing to spot firearms and explosives in training exercises, and warned that there was a “50-50 chance” of terrorists being able to smuggle weapons into one of the Games venues. Others have claimed that G4S trainees have been cheating in exercises designed to train them on the X-ray equipment.

Many of those hired by G4S are foreign nationals or from immigrant communities. On a practical level this has led to issues with what the BBC euphemistically called “communication skills” -- in other words, many of them can barely speak English. More worryingly, many of these people are being recruited from the very communities that harbor Islamist extremists, and in which radicalization is a serious problem.