Like something out of a Zack Snyder film, the Olympics in London will mark the country’s largest military mobilization since the Second World War. To put it another way, there will be more British soldiers in London than those fighting the war in Afghanistan. In total, an expected 13,500 military personnel will be assisting security, making a total head count of 23,700 to secure London’s 7.8 million residents. That’s just by land—on sea, the largest ship in the British Navy, the H.M.S. Ocean, the C.V. of which includes leading the assault against Colonel Qaddafi, will be docked in Greenwich and house 800 bored poised marines.
Since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, direct military involvement during the Games has been routine. In London, the issue at hand is that the Ministry of Defence did not expect the level of involvement that is now being relied on. There is an anticipated lending of a hand, but not both hands, arms, legs, and feet. “The scale of work required to deliver the greatest peacetime safety-and-security operation was always going to bring some significant challenges to the fore,” says Brokenshire, “but we are leaving nothing to chance and we are confident in our plans.”
But leaving nothing to chance isn’t fully cut-and-dried, as showcased by the recent security malfunction when Trenton Oldfield deliberately swam through the route of the 158th annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race, forcing the rowers to restart. Trenton was arrested and later charged with a public-order offense—also known as his protest against elitism, which apparently leads to tyranny (his words, not ours). Although this was an isolated event, as British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan candidly said of the incident: “It just takes, and is likely to be, one idiot.”
Preventing idiocy, as The Guardian reports, ultimately means additional costs, even when using one’s own military forces already on the state payroll. Per the paper, the “immediate security costs have doubled from 282m to 553m. Even these figures are likely to end up as dramatic underestimates: the final security budget of the 2004 Athens Olympics were around 1bn.”
Adding to the cost and complication is the recent announcement that First Lady Michelle Obama will lead the U.S.-presidential delegation to the Opening Ceremonies (though the specific details of those costs, our sources would not reveal). “We are obviously delighted that the First Lady will be coming to the Games,” Brokenshire tells us. “The First Lady has visited the U.K. on a number of occasions, and we are confident she will enjoy this great sporting event showcasing Great Britain at its best.”
Would the best be the reported “biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems and new police centres and checkpoints” that the city also plans to implement?
“We have approached the Games by planning against the four key threat areas,” Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison—a senior officer with the Metropolitan Police and the National Olympic Security Coordinator—tells VanityFair.com. “The first is obviously terrorism. Secondly, the threat from serious organized crime.” Fortunately, Allison explains, there is an entire team dedicated to this bracket of crime, cryptically and yet completely blandly dubbed “Operation Podium.” Through the program, Allison says, “over 120 arrests” have already been made as of March 30. “The third area is protest or public disorder,” he adds, “and finally, we have to consider the impact of natural hazards,” such as health-related threats—including, apparently, greetings. Last month, British Olympic Association chief medic Dr. Ian McCurdie released a statement advising British athletes to avoid shaking hands in an effort to retain good hygiene. In a swift rebuttal, a U.S. Olympic team spokesperson said that it “always encourage[s] our athletes . . . to embrace the Olympic spirit and meet, greet and interact with as many different athletes from as many nationalities as possible.”