As many as 48,000 security forces. Thirteen thousand five hundred troops. Surface-to-air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment buildings. A sonic weapon that disperses crowds by creating “head splitting pain.” Unmanned drones peering down from the skies. A safe zone, cordoned off by an eleven-mile electrified fence, ringed with trained agents and fifty-five teams of attack dogs.
One would be forgiven for thinking that these were the counterinsurgency tactics used by US army bases in Iraq and Afghanistan or perhaps the military methods taught to third-world despots at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia. But instead of being used in a war zone or the theater of occupation, they in fact make up the very visible security apparatus in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
London, which has the most street cameras per capita of any city on earth, has, for the seven years since the terror attacks of July 7, 2005, been a city whose political leaders would spare no expense to monitor its own citizens. But the Olympic operation goes above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen when a Western democracy hosts the games. Not even China in 2008 used drone planes or ringed the proceedings with a massive, high-voltage fence. But here is London, preparing a counterinsurgency, and parking an aircraft carrier right in the Thames. Here is London adding “scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints.”
Stephen Graham at the Guardian refers to the entire state of affairs as “Lockdown London” as well as “the UK’s biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the second world war.” He is not exaggerating in the slightest. The number of troops will exceed the forces the UK has had in Afghanistan.
It’s not just the costs or the incredible invasion into people’s privacy. It’s the powers being given to police under the 2006 “London Olympic Games Act,” which empowers not only the army and police but also private security forces to deal with “security issues” using physical force. These “security issues” have been broadly defined to include everything from “terrorism” to peaceful protesters, to labor unions, to people selling bootleg Olympic products on the streets, to taking down any corporate presence that doesn’t have the Olympic seal of approval. To help them with the last part, there will be “brand protection teams” set loose around the city. These “teams” will also operate inside Olympic venues to make sure no one “wears clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturers” who are official sponsors.
The security operation also means the kind of street harassment of working class youth that will sound familiar here in the United States. As the Guardian reported, “Officers have powers to move on anyone considered to be engaged in antisocial behaviour, whether they are hanging around the train station, begging, soliciting, loitering in hoodies or deemed in any way to be causing a nuisance.”