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.”
Not to shock anyone, but there are no signs that any of the security apparatus will be dismantled once the Olympics are over. Local police forces have just been given an inordinate number of new toys and the boxes have been opened, the receipts tossed away.
London will be left with a high-tech police force, terrible debt, higher taxes, with a camera around every corner. The only people who will leave this party enriched will be the private security industry, who will tout “the peace” as their personal accomplishment, encouraging more of the global 1 percent to get more guards, more walls and more separation from the great unwashed.
There is no reason that the Olympics have to be this way. There is no reason that an international celebration of sports—particularly sports more diverse than our typical high-carb diet of football, baseball, basketball and more football—can’t take place without drones and aircraft carriers. There is no reason athletes from across the globe can’t join together and showcase their physical potential.
But the Olympics aren’t about sport any more than the Iraq War was about democracy. The Olympics are not about athletes. And they’re definitely not about bringing together “the community of Nations.” They are a neoliberal Trojan Horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.
In many ways, this is what the games have always been. From Hitler’s Berlin Olympics in 1936, to the slaughter of students in 1968 in Mexico City, to the Gang Sweeps in Los Angeles in 1984, to Beijing’s mass displacement of citizens in 2008, the “crackdown” has always been a part of the Olympic games. But in the post 9/11 world, the stakes are even higher to expose this for what it is. The Olympics have become the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and the medicine is that our elected leaders have seen the enemy, and it is all of us.