LONDON (AP) — The national security coordinator for the 2012 London Olympics sharply rejected reports that armed FBI agents would be taking part in securing the games, insisting Tuesday that Britain did not need outside help to keep the event safe.Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison dismissed a Guardian newspaper report suggesting that the United States would send dozens of armed FBI agents to protect U.S. interests. Though he has denied the report before, the issue has continued to fester, suggesting tensions between Britain and the United States, which sends a huge contingent of athletes to the Olympics.
Allison said that while U.S. liaison officers would be involved in preparing for the Olympics, the notion that agents would come en masse was “rubbish.”
“There will be no foreign armed personnel here,” Allison said.
The news conference for international media seemed designed to stamp out the notion that other countries — and particularly the United States — lacked confidence in security preparations for the games. Underscoring that point, Paul Deighton, the chief executive officer of the London organising committee, sat beside Allison and staunchly repeated that all the planning — including security — was on track.
Deighton said that the number of security guards at venues remains under discussion, and that volunteers could be called upon to do tasks at the start of the screening process — bolstering the security presence.
“It is essentially a welcome activity saying ‘you are welcome to the Olympic Park and you are about to go through a screening process. It might be helpful if you took your coat off now and maybe your belt to get through screening faster,'” Deighton said earlier.
Security has been a costly and critical issue for the games since a terror incident at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, in which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches died. The Olympics continue to offer a ready platform for any terror group, as international focus is already directed at events broadcast live worldwide.
London itself has also been touched by such troubles. Four suicide bombers targeted the city’s transit network in 2005, killing 52 commuters — an attack that took place one day after the Olympics were awarded to London and forever linked the two events together in public perception.
The London Games are seen as a high security threat. The British government is planning for the national terror threat to be “severe” during the Olympics, meaning an attempted attack is highly likely.
About 12,000 police officers will also be on duty on the busiest days of the July 27-Aug. 12 games. The massive operation includes 11 police departments.
But at Tuesday’s news conference, and others before it, Allison said that it is police — rather than the military or any other group — who will provide the vanguard of forces protecting the tens of thousands of athletes, spectators and others attending the games.
It is a matter of national pride that the police in Britain will do things their own way — with unarmed officers patrolling the streets as they always have done. However, British police have specialised armed officers ready to respond to emergencies, and say they are prepared to respond to terror incidents.
At the same time, it is clear that planners underestimated the number of security guards needed at the venues to search spectators. Thousands of British soldiers are likely to be posted at Olympic venues after a security review showed that the 10,000 security guards contracted for the games might need to be doubled.
British authorities had already planned to have the country’s military help secure the games. However, this role was to be limited to certain specialised events, such as patrolling the perimeter of the sailing venue.
Underscoring the sensitivity of planning, Britain’s defence Secretary Philip Hammond said last week nothing would be ruled out to keep the games safe — including the use of surface-to-air missiles.
Danica Kirka can be reached at http://twitter.com/DanicaKirka
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