Amid Reports of Ineptitude, Concerns Over Security at London Olympics
By JOHN F. BURNS
Published: July 14, 2012
LONDON — 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
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 gap is now expected to be filled by Britain’s
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.
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-millimeter 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 percent.
G4S, which has more than 650,000 employees in 125 countries, came
forward on 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.
Later, a company spokesman responded by e-mail to questions submitted by
The New York Times that detailed the shortcomings alleged by
whistle-blowers. The e-mail said the company was “working 24 hours a day
to deliver on our London 2012 contract.” It said it did not tolerate
people falling asleep or not paying attention during training.
It was more oblique on whether recruits failed to spot fake weapons
during practice searches. “Some trainees have not worked as security
officers before but by the time they have finished training they have
been instructed in how to react when they spot items that are not
allowed to be brought into venues.”
In the BBC interview, Mr. Buckles said he was “pretty sure” the guards
already deployed could speak English well, “but I cannot say
categorically as I sit here today.”
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 “crystallized” 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.
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