Tuesday 12 April 2011

London 2012: one big party or one big prison?

Security precautions for London 2012 include the construction of a 17.5 km, 5,000volt electric fence, topped with 900 daylight and night vision surveillance cameras spaced at 50 metre intervals. On first sight of the fence you could be forgiven for thinking you had slipped through a wormhole in the space-time continuum to find yourself on the perimeter of a Soviet era Gulag. Mike Wells investigates security for the Olympic games.

The Code of Practice for the operating CCTV at the London Olympics states that:

The threat of hostile individuals attempting to gain access through the perimeter is believed to justify the use of CCTV

As part of the Command Perimeter Security System, CCTV will be deployed.

Security Fence: The 17.5 km fence has 900 day and night vision cameras and is topped with many strands of 5,000 volt electrified wire. It gives the feeling of a prison rather than of a party venue. © Mike Wells

The use of military terms like hostile individuals and Command Perimeter Security System highlight a contradiction between the Olympic promise and reality, between the sporting party image and a security paranoia now made visible in the form of the Olympic perimeter fence. But there is a large and profitable industry supplying equipment and research to feed the paranoia of a new security mindset identified by author Matt Carr who comments…

A new genre of military futurology has emerged which owes as much to apocalyptic Hollywood movies as it does to the cold war tradition of ‘scenario planning. Often outlandish and bizarre in its prophecies, and always dystopian, this new military futurism sees threats to the western way of life emanating not only from rogue states, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism but also from resurgent nationalism, conflicts over dwindling resources, migration, disease, organised crime, abrupt climate change and the emergence of failed cities where social disorder is rife.

Joint Metropolitan Police and special forces anti-terror exercise: This exercise was so realistic that amputees were used as fake casualties, as can be seen from the bloodied leg. Loud explosions and gun fire was heard during this exercise. I left the scene as soon as the commanding officer threatened to arrest me under the Official Secrets Act for taking photographs

Other security measures to be implemented for London 2012 will include facial and iris recognition, finger-print and hand recognition, guards with attack dogs and search dogs. New software is planned to integrate all of London's CCTV cameras, and will have the capability to follow you through the city. A scheme to search people and vehicles will include machines capable of looking through your clothing. The Air Force will deploy its Reaper pilot-less drone aircraft, which will carry laser-guided bombs and missiles including the Hellfire air-to-ground weapon. While on the Thames, the Royal Navy will deploy its new £1 billion Daring class Type 45 destroyer. These are also to be fitted with laser-guided missile systems able to shoot down a target the size of a cricket ball.

It is rumoured the London’s Met Police are planning to use remotely controlled mini aeroplanes with surveillance cameras (spy drones) at the Olympics. A company likely to supply the equipment is AirRobot UK Ltd. Air Robot UK’s website tells us that…

AirRobot UK was chosen as the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] system to cover aerial surveillance at the London Olympics 2012 Handover Ceremony during the late summer of 2008. The system was deployed at The Mall and Buckingham Palace to provide real time images to emergency services at the event. (2)

The Home Office website alleges that...

Ensuring the safety and security of the 2012 Games will be one of the largest, most complex security challenges the UK has ever faced.

The Home Office’s suggestion appears an overstatement. Securing Britain form Nazi Germany during the second world war, and preventing global nuclear destruction during the Cold War would fit their description, but as Matt Carr comments… In recent years, the military establishments of the US and the UK have produced a series of reports that attempt to ‘think the unthinkable in imagining future threats to the security of the West.

The Olympic Act, which sets out various laws relating to the Olympics, gives the right of forced entry into private property to remove unauthorised advertising or protest banners. Even more worrying is that the right of forced entry is extended outside the police force to staff contracted to the ODA.

According to The Times security measures for the London Olympics will include the nationwide use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, allowing police stop and search without suspicion. The London Olympics and its security does not exist in isolation but in a continuum of increasing state surveillance and security hysteria. Any extra powers gained by the state over the citizenry should ring alarm bells because of the danger they will become accepted and permanent.

A subcategory of Military Futurism known as Red Teaming is a way of assessing your own security from the point of view of those who would attack you, as though you are your own enemy. It is promoted as a way of thinking without preconceptions or boundaries. Red Team journal comments that …

[S]ome events also are so unlikely that their very randomness lowers all obstacles to them occurring. […] This poses a particular problem for red teaming and threat analysis. How can we plan for every conceivable scenario? Or, to take a different tack, should we? Being strong everywhere means being weak everywhere. One can easily drain organizational resources planning for “movie-plot” WMD terrorism only to be surprised by a group of men with machine guns. But protecting the national interest is a [sic] task that must be accomplished regardless of human weakness.(4)

The idea that we should “protect the national interest regardless of human weakness” sounds more like a line from a Hollywood B movie than something that should be taken seriously by government agencies, and yet looking at the development of the London Olympic Security one can imagine this is a way of thinking that has taken root.

Emergency services anti-terror exercise.: Simulation of a biochemical attack.

Concerns over surveillance, security and privacy led a group of academics to draft a public statement over these issues at the Vancouver winter games.

having analyzed past and planned Olympics and other mega events, from a variety of historical and international perspectives, we recognize:

* that recent Games have increasingly taken place in and contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance; and
* that this has often been to the detriment of democracy, transparency and human rights, with serious implications for international, national and local norms and laws.

These academics seem to have a point. Extrapolating further along the graph of surveillance and securitisation one would predict that the military/security/prison industrial complex will become increasingly embedded, effective and difficult to dislodge. What would satiate the appetite of this sector of the state apparatus would logically be a point at which dissent becomes impossible.

CCTV Control Centre in Tower Hamlets London.: It is planned to integrate all of London's CCTV cameras in time for the Olympics.
New security technologies will make it possible to monitor populations with only a small number of personnel and hence at minimal cost. In theory this means a small minority could have the ability to control a whole population and this should be seen as a potential threat, ironically it should perhaps be a scenario Red Teaming should plan against, however Red Teaming smacks more of maintaining an incumbent elite than preventing it careering out of control.

Military futurism’s predictions of a dysfunctional society full of threats could be a self-fulfilling prophesy, because as it attempts to do the impossible, in “protecting” from all “conceivable scenarios”, it must necessarily turn us all into suspects. Hence it has to reduce our trust in each other, and eventually in the state apparatus itself. London’s police force recently refused a Freedom of Information Request on their plans to use spy drones, saying that

this [their reply] should not be taken as necessarily indicating that any information that would meet your request exists or does not exist.

In other words this is secret. AirRobot UK’s drone is small, silent and difficult to spot. It can also be landed (perched) in hidden locations such as rooftops in order carry out covert surveillance.

MI6 Building: Also known as the British Secret Intelligence Service Building at Albert Embankment in London

Enhanced by new technology Britain seems to be sleep walking towards a big-brother state, which is camouflaging itself as means of protecting ordinary “hard working families”. Yet life cannot exist without risk and in this case trying to eliminate risk carries the greater danger of dis-empowering and separating us from each other while at the same time leaving a window of opportunity for a small elite to monitor and control us.

Perhaps the cherry on the surveillance cake, and a technology that could eventually make dissent difficult, is Threat Assessment and Behavioral Analysis Software. This new innovation has the ability to monitor CCTV images and recognise patterns of behavior. It is reported to be under consideration for the London Olympics (3).

Text and photos © Mike Wells mikejwells@yahoo.com

Slouching Towards Dystopia: the new military futurism by
Matt Carr in Journal of Race and Class. Jan 2010; 51: 13-32

(2) http://www.airrobot-uk.com/air-robot-news.htm
(3) http://www.reading.ac.uk/api/api-threat.aspx


  1. If I comment on this will the Threat Assessment and Behavioral Analysis Software flag me up?

  2. Welcome to the Olympics. Welcome to hell.


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