Security concerns for London Olympics

Officials have said that some workers had been unemployed for months or years.

Even government officials involved in the Olympics are calling it a fiasco, and their assessments have been backed up by whistle-blowers’ accounts that have sketched out the extent of the chaos that has thrown security plans into disarray only two weeks before the Games begin.

The problems go well beyond last week’s news of a shortfall in the number of civilian guards for the Games that had been promised by a security contractor; the shortfall is now expected to be filled by Britain’s armed forces.

Newspaper accounts have told of recruits hired for essential security tasks at more than 100 sites – including the main Olympic stadium, which seats 80,000 – falling asleep during training sessions. Instructors for G4S, the private company that has a $440 million contract to provide 10,400 guards for the Games, have complained of facing rows of recruits who speak little or no English.

One tabloid published a photograph, which it said had been taken at a training session, that showed a young woman slumped at her desk, apparently sleeping, with a youth alongside her apparently listening to music through earphones.

Hidden weapons

The account, in The Daily Mail, told of recruits repeatedly failing to spot fake bombs and grenades during X-ray training, and clearing people through security during their training without spotting hidden weapons, in one case a 9 mm pistol stuffed into a “test spectator’s” sock. The paper quoted one whistle-blower, whom it described as having a military background, as saying that some of the people were poorly educated and unprepared: “Some of the people on that course you would not hire to empty a dustbin.”

Officials with knowledge of Olympic planning who asked not to be identified have said that some workers had been unemployed for months or years. Newspaper reports have also said that among those who have completed their training and been deployed to Olympic sites, dropout rates have been as high as 50 per cent.

G4S, which has more than 650,000 employees in 125 countries, came forward Saturday to offer an apology for not being able to provide enough security guards. The company’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, said in an interview with the BBC that it had realized only ‘eight or nine days ago’ – more than six months after it signed a contract calling for it to provide 13,400 guards, with 3,000 as a back-up against dropouts – that it would not be able to meet its commitments. “We deeply regret that,” he said.

On Thursday, when the government acknowledged the extent of the bungling and announced that it would be adding 3,500 additional troops to the 13,500 troops already committed to security duties at the Games, it offered assurances that the security for the 17 days of competition would not be compromised. Theresa May, the home secretary, who is one of the most powerful figures in prime minister David Cameron’s government, laid the blame on G4S and Olympic organizers who negotiated the G4S contract and said that the extent of the security mismanagement had only ‘crystallised’ 24 hours before she reported it to the House of Commons.

Lawmakers have said they will summon G4S executives and others involved in the security planning to testify about the imbroglio when Parliament reconvenes after its summer break, weeks after the Olympic Games have ended. In any case, the political fallout for the Cameron government is likely to be mitigated by the fact that much of the planning for the Games – or lack of it, as it appears now – took place in the five years after they were awarded to London in 2005, when the opposition Labour Party was in power.

In the dispute over security planning, the picture that has emerged has been one of haphazard planning going back several years. The original contract with G4S provided for only 2,000 guards, and a relatively small military contingent.

Those plans underwent a radical overhaul in December, in part, officials say, because of pressure from the United States in the form of warnings about vulnerability to terrorist attacks that came from a specialized team of FBI and CIA officials monitoring Olympic preparations. A Cabinet committee led by Cameron approved a fivefold increase in the number of private guards to be recruited by G4S, and a similar increase in police and military deployments.

On Saturday, Buckles, the G4S boss, said the company had deployed 4,000 trained guards, but could not say how long it might take to complete the training and security-vetting of another 9,000 that it had in the pipeline. He said the company has promised to pay for the additional military deployments, and expected to incur an $80 million loss on the Olympic contract.

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