Accompanying every high profile event, from a meeting of world leaders to a sporting extravaganza, there is always a heightened sense of tension. Security concerns ooze through media broadcasts and infiltrate social conversation with a “will they” or “could they” as we question whether those with an evil inclination could try to convert a celebration into a catastrophe. The Olympic Games have long been tainted by the actions of those Black September terrorists who used the stage afforded them at the 1972 Munich Olympiad as an opportunity to violently express the Palestinian cause and, in doing so, callously murder innocent athletes.
Despite all the doomsday prophecies, the targeting of high profile events is not commonplace. In part, this is due to the security infrastructure which is deployed to counter the threat; at the very least, it is an effective deterrent. However, it is also due to the nature of terrorist organisations who generally attack when and where we least expect it. They have, traditionally, tended to keep it simple and take action at places where they are certain of success and not when we are at our most vigilant.
But no venue, no matter how heavily protected it is by the security agencies, can offer any guarantees. In the era of the lone wolf terrorist, where homemade explosives may be the weapon of choice, every city centre has its Achilles Heel. The London Olympics of 2012 were regarded as a triumph of the security apparatus but that does not mean that an attack was impossible to perpetrate. The actors simply chose not to.
From a UK perspective, it is almost surprising that attacks have not taken place against West End theatres, Premier League football matches, the Wimbledon Championships, and the host of tourist attractions and iconic buildings which all symbolise our way of life, our heritage and place us upon the world’s stage. The reality is that, fortunately, terrorist attacks are a rarity in the West. We are not having to respond to the almost daily suicidal attacks taking place in other parts of the world. This then poses us with a question: how do we avoid inconveniencing society yet do enough to maintain the deterrent and reassure the general public, whilst not spending vast sums of money, which could be better spent on health, education or international aid?
In part, the answer must lie in doing whatever we can where money is not a factor. As a simple example, I am surprised that so many airlines worry about the security of their crews as they travel between airports and hotels whilst overseas, yet do not take the very simple step of requiring their pilots and flight attendants to take such journeys in civilian clothing, thereby not drawing attention to themselves and appearing more like a tourist group than as representatives of their carrier.
Interestingly, British and American athletes attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February were told not to wear clothing bearing big logos depicting their nationality. Ultimately, it’s a case of not turning oneself into a target.
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