Security of the 2010 Olympics

Mar 15, 2010

The largest security operation in Canadian history ­successfully wrapped up the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Main security operations ended 48 hours after the principal sporting events finished. Security needs for the Paralympic Games (March 12-21) were ­significantly reduced.

Vancouver taken from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter during a familiarization flight in preperation for Exercise PEGASUS GUARDIAN 3. (DND Photos)

An estimated 2,500 athletes, their coaches, and other support staff participated in the Winter Games. Approximately 10,000 media representatives covered the Olympics, including the opening ceremonies in B.C. Place Stadium, where more than 60,000 people gathered to cheer on the teams of 81 participating countries.  

Many officers, much territory to secure
The security force for these Olympics consisted of some 6,000 police officers; 4,000 Canadian Forces troops; and 4,800 private ­security guards. The operation was unprecedented for Canada in terms of size, complexity, and cost; the original security budget of $175 million in 2002 ballooned to $900 million seven years later. In addition to Olympic venues in Vancouver and Whistler, 129 km of highway between the communities had to be secured, as well as hundreds of kilometres of coastline and thousands of square ­kilometres of airspace.

Possible security threats to the 2010 Winter Olympics were domestic and international. In January, CTV News reported, “The U.S. government is advising American sports fans travelling to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics to watch out for al-Qaeda and other extremists, especially on transit and in restaurants, churches and other areas outside official venues.” A U.S. State Department webpage said, “Al-Qaeda’s demonstrated capability to carry out sophisticated attacks against sizable structures – such as ships, large office buildings, embassies and hotels – makes it one of the greatest potential threats to the Olympics.”

While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service reportedly kept tabs on various parties of interest, it was unknown if a group of individuals or a “lone wolf” would initiate an attack during the Games just to make a point. Both have happened in the past. In ­September 1972, members of the Palestinian militant group, Black September, took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and later killed 11 team members and a West German police officer. The mistakes made by the West German police during the crisis that ­contributed to the hostages’ deaths triggered the formation of ­Grenzschutzgruppe 9, the elite counter-terrorism and special ­operations unit of the German Federal Police, two months later.

During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, a ­former US Army explosives expert named Eric Rudolph remotely detonated three pipe bombs surrounded by nails that he put in a military field pack and placed at the bottom of a concert sound tower in the Centennial Olympic Park. The device was the largest known deployed pipe bomb in American history, weighing more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms). A security guard discovered the pack and alerted police. Nine minutes later, Rudolph called 911 to deliver a warning. As people were being cleared from the area, he set off the bomb, which killed one person and wounded 111 others. According to a written statement by Rudolph, “…the purpose of the attack on July 27 was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.” His aim had been to force cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity.

Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit
To prepare for and oversee security for the Winter Games, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) formed the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (V2010 ISU) in 2003. This unit included the RCMP, Vancouver Police Departments, South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service, the Canadian Forces (CF), Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Canada Border Services Agency. Other organizations involved in marine or aviation security aspects of the Olympics included Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Nav Canada (national air ­traffic services provider), the port authorities for the Vancouver Port, Vancouver Airport, and Abbotsford Airport (east of metro Vancouver in the Fraser Valley), Alpha Aviation (manages the Boundary Bay Airport south of Vancouver in the city of Delta), CYNJ Airport Management (manages the Langley Regional Airport to the east of Vancouver), and the Victoria (BC) Airport Authority.

A V2010 ISU webpage noted: “The RCMP and its partners take a measured security approach to global events. A strong security presence will not be visible – unless circumstances warrant. The security plan [is] based on operational need. The level of security will be determined by our threat assessments – based on information from a wide range of sources and agencies.”

In June 2006, then-Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier wrote in his Initiating Directive (a document that formally authorized the CF to begin assisting the RCMP with security plans for the Olympics): “It must be understood that the V2010 Games are a sporting event, not a security one. Forces and other dangerous individuals or organizations may seize this moment to further their aims using violence. Canadian security forces, and the CF, must therefore be poised to detect, deter, prevent, pre-empt and defeat threats and aggression […] while respecting, as much as possible, the spirit of the Olympic Truce. CF support to this aspect of the V2010 Games will need to be ­discrete to the general public. CF ceremonial support to the federal government will be in the public eye to the extent desired by the government. In both cases, it must be understood that the CF shall remain in a supporting role and at no time should staff at any ­levels attempt to take the lead.”

MCpl Chris Ward/DND

In early January 2008, a large, grey airplane, a CP-140 Aurora from Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island, could be seen flying over downtown Vancouver as it conducted aerial ­surveillance and mapping of Olympic venues.

The Vancouver Sun reported in May 2008 that security forces would use a variety of surveillance technologies, including closed-circuit cameras and electronic sensors in Vancouver and Whistler. Hundreds of surveillance cameras were installed, and facial-recognition software was used to help security personnel keep track of ­visitors. The surveillance ‘web’ prompted Dr. David Lyon, Director of the Queen’s Surveillance Project at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, to dub the Olympics “the Surveillance Games.”

Marine security zones were instituted around waterside venues during the Games, and temporary passenger screening ­facilities were set up for flights in and out of Vancouver Harbour (on floatplanes and helicopters). Controlled and restricted areas of airspace, from Whistler to the U.S. border and from Vancouver Island to the Fraser Valley, were in effect between January 29 and March 3. All aircraft, pilots, and passengers ­flying into the region had to pass through security screening, regardless of how many people were onboard or whether the flights were commercial or private.

Richmond Firefighters don HAZMAT suits during an emergency preparedness exercise for Op Podium.

RCMP Air Services and the CF provided aircraft for Olympics security. CF-18 jets were at-the-ready in case any errant or hostile aircraft needed to be intercepted, and Griffon helicopters were deployed in forward operating bases in case Joint Task Force Two, Canada’s Special Forces unit, needed to be airlifted to a location. Medevac aircraft were also put on stand-by.

Due to a lack of hotel space, police officers brought in from across Canada were housed on cruise ships docked in the harbour.

Security Exercises
The 2010 Olympic Integrated Exercise Program included three major security exercises – Bronze, Silver, and Gold – to prepare police and military forces, emergency responders, port authorities and other parties for the Winter Games. Exercise Bronze, held in November 2008, examined regional security and safety issues. Three months later, Exercise Silver practiced security and safety plans, procedures and interoperability between departments and agencies. In November 2009, Exercise Gold involved local police, fire and ambulance services and some 140 federal, provincial, municipal, and private sector organizations in two full-scale, live-action terrorist attacks. Mock casualties were simulated and communications and coordination were tested during this final exercise.

Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, V2010 ISU Chief Operating Officer, said the exercises represented “years of planning, integration and preparation with local, provincial, national and international safety and security partners,” also noting that “the safety and security inter-agency cooperation and relationships will remain in place for years to come.” Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, Commander of Joint Task Force Games, added, “The Canadian Forces are proud to support the RCMP in securing the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Contributing to the safety and security of Canadians here at home is our first priority.”

In September, the Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Region conducted Exercise Fabric Virgo in the skies over southwestern B.C. to get ready for the 2010 Winter Games. The exercise covered areas of Vancouver and Vancouver Island and involved CF-18 jet fighters escorting civilian-looking ­aircraft at low altitudes. The training was done in coordination with Nav Canada to familiarize air traffic controllers and NORAD personnel with airspace operations in the Lower Mainland (metro Vancouver and surrounding communities). The airspace is among the most complex in the world in terms of how it is organized relative to terrain, aerodromes, navigation aids, and other elements.

Sgt Frank Hudec/DND

By October 2009, V2010 ISU Assistant Commissioner Bud ­Mercer was confirming the next level: “We are now moving into the critical final phase of planning and implementation before becoming fully operational early next year. One of the key aspects that has mirrored the planning cycle is the need to exercise and test our security plans. The ISU has an extensive exercise program that has been up and running for the past two years. Pegasus Guardian 3 and Spartan Rings [which took place October 19-23, 2009] are part of that overall preparatory process. This police and Canadian Forces focused exercise allows the ‘security pillar’ to be validated in terms of protocols and procedures.”

Exercises Pegasus Guardian 3 and Spartan Rings were full-scale, functional exercises aimed at validating the readiness of the RCMP-led V2010 ISU and all security partners. The scenarios, reportedly developed from lessons learned during previous exercises Exercise Pegasus Guardian 2 and Exercise Silver in February 2009, were designed to challenge the ability of security forces to successfully overcome a spectrum of potential threats to the Games. Key areas for validating included tactical procedures, communications and command and control.

“These events have been strategically designed and will be tightly controlled with the guiding principles of safety and security for all exercise participants and the public,” Mercer added.

“At the conclusion of Pegasus Guardian 3 – Spartan Rings we are confident that the V2010 ISU and its key security partners will be prepared for the final Privy Council Office led confirmation exercise – Exercise Gold.”

American Preparations
With many Olympic events being held just 50 kilometres from the international boundary, U.S. authorities organized major resources in case of a terrorist attack, earthquake, or other significantly negative event affecting Americans during the Games. In 2005, the State of Washington appointed a 2010 Olympics task force, and a $4-million Olympics Coordination Center was subsequently established 37 kilometres south of the B.C. border at the Bellingham Airport. Starting in July, personnel from 40 federal, state and local agencies in the U.S. simulated several possible emergencies. While Security Exercises Bronze, Silver, and Gold took place in Vancouver, parallel events were being held in Tacoma, Washington.

Cpl Roderick Hopp/DND

The U.S. government reportedly spent $500,000 on pre-Olympics training exercises involving American emergency workers and financed an upgrade to a mountaintop communications tower to improve contact between first responders and Washington State highway patrol officers. “Our role is mainly coordination in case something happens on our side of the border,” Robert Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, told the Vancouver Sun in July. Throughout the Olympics, the U.S. Coast Guard and RCMP conducted integrated marine cross-border law enforcement to ensure that no terrorist or criminal threat penetrated Canadian waters from the U.S. side.

Security Threats, Responses and Breeches
Many Canadians were unaware of the fact that there was significant opposition in B.C. to the Olympics and a great deal of anger felt by Vancouverites and other B.C. taxpayers who have to pay the lion’s share of $6+ billion in bills for related projects, programs, and operations. (In 2000, people in metro Vancouver were told by politicians and officials from the Vancouver Olympics Committee (VANOC) that the Games would cost less than $1 billion.) In January 2008, the Globe & Mail reported, “An array of activists, from aboriginal groups to anti-poverty fighters, oppose the Winter Games, fearing the impact of the mega-event on Vancouver’s poor, the environment, and the B.C. balance sheet.”

Angry British Columbians have committed acts of violence in the past against large projects. In May 1982, a bomb was detonated at a B.C. Hydro substation on Vancouver Island, causing $5 million in damage. More recently, between October 2008 and July 2009 six bombs destroyed or damaged EnCana Corp. pipelines and wellheads in the northern part of the province. At least one British Columbian, an anti-oil industry activist known to police, is suspected of having been involved in the bombings.

A Security sweep of the fountain at the Olympic Oval in Richmond during Operation PODIUM (Exercises PEGASUS GUARDIAN 3 and SPARTAN RINGS).

Opponents to the Olympics organized and carried out several protests during the Games, most of them peaceful, albeit “energetic.” However, during one demonstration on February 12, a small group of protesters clad mostly in black wearing dark balaclavas ‘armed’ themselves with a ladder, a hammer, and some chairs and went on a rampage, breaking store windows. Police responded and arrested more than one dozen people; charges included vandalism, disturbing the peace, assault of a police officer, and mischief.

On the day before the 2010 Winter Games officially began, a long, plastic cylinder wrapped in tape was found beside some diesel tanks in the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and reported to police as “suspicious.” The Quay is on the north side of Burrard Inlet, across from downtown Vancouver and the Convention Centre where media companies from several nations set up operations. The Lonsdale Quay is also the north terminus of the SeaBus, which crosses Burrard Inlet from Vancouver’s Waterfront Station, not far from the Convention Centre. North Vancouver RCMP responded quickly, shutting down the Quay, its bus loop, and SeaBus traffic for three hours while canine and explosive disposal units combed the facility and RCMP helicopter Air One circled overhead. A robot was used to remove the package which contained... a fishing rod.

During the first week of the Olympics, a mentally ill man using a home-made laminated pass slipped past security at B.C. Place ­Stadium and got within yards of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was seated in the VIP box. After being confronted by two undercover officers, the man, who later told police he was infatuated with Biden, tried to escape into a nearby hallway and was arrested. Fortunately, he was unarmed.

While the Olympics ended without any other major security incidents, its controversial legacy lingers. More than 200 people employed by the City of Vancouver and Vancouver School Board are losing their jobs due to insufficient funds (city and B.C. government spending on the Olympics exceeded $1.5 billion). Also, in Prince George in northern B.C., eight of the area’s 48 schools are being shut down due to insufficient provincial funding. Gordon Campbell’s government is reportedly shoring up revenues with $778 million taken from a provincial insurance reserve fund.  

Blair Watson is a Contributing Editor at FrontLine Magazines. He is based in British Columbia.
© FrontLine Security 2010