London 2012: one big party or one big prison?

By Mike Wells

Security precautions for London 2012 include the construction of a
17.5 km, 5,000volt electric fence, topped with 900 daylight and night
vision surveillance cameras spaced at 50 metre intervals. On first
sight of the fence you could be forgiven for thinking you had slipped
through a wormhole in the space-time continuum to find yourself on the
perimeter of a Soviet era Gulag.

[] The Code of Practice for the operating CCTV at the London Olympics states that

the threat of hostile individuals attempting to gain access through the perimeter is believed to justify the use of CCTV

As part of the Command Perimeter Security System, CCTV will be deployed.

The use of military terms like hostile individuals and Command
Perimeter Security System highlight a contradiction between the Olympic
promise and reality, between the a sporting party image and a security
paranoia now made visible in the form of the Olympic perimeter fence.
But there is a large and profitable industry supplying equipment and
research to feed the paranoia of a new security mindset identified by
author Matt Carr who comments…

A new genre of military futurology has emerged which
owes as much to apocalyptic Hollywood movies as it does to the cold war
tradition of ‘scenario planning. Often outlandish and bizarre in its
prophecies, and always dystopian, this new military futurism sees
threats to the western way of life emanating not only from rogue
states, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism but also from
resurgent nationalism, conflicts over dwindling resources, migration,
disease, organised crime, abrupt climate change and the emergence of
failed cities where social disorder is rife.

Other security measures to be implemented for London 2012 will
include facial and iris recognition, finger-print and hand recognition,
guards with attack dogs and search dogs. New software is planned to
integrate all of London’s CCTV cameras, and will have the capability to
follow you through the city. A scheme to search people and vehicles
will include machines capable of looking through your clothing. The Air
Force will deploy its Reaper pilot-less drone aircraft, which will
carry laser-guided bombs and missiles including the Hellfire
air-to-ground weapon. While on the Thames, the Royal Navy will deploy
its new £1 billion Daring class Type 45 destroyer. These are also to be
fitted with laser-guided missile systems able to shoot down a target
the size of a cricket ball.

It is rumoured the London’s Met Police are planning to use remotely
controlled mini aeroplanes with surveillance cameras (spy drones) at
the Olympics. A company likely to supply the equipment is AirRobot UK
Ltd. Air Robot UK’s website tells us that…

AirRobot UK was chosen as the UAV [unmanned aerial
vehicle] system to cover aerial surveillance at the London Olympics
2012 Handover Ceremony during the late summer of 2008. The system was
deployed at The Mall and Buckingham Palace to provide real time images
to emergency services at the event. (2)

The Home Office website alleges that…

Ensuring the safety and security of the 2012 Games will
be one of the largest, most complex security challenges the UK has ever

The Home Office’s suggestion appears an overstatement. Securing
Britain form Nazi Germany during the second world war, and preventing
global nuclear destruction during the Cold War would fit the their
description, but as Matt Carr comments… In recent years, the military
establishments of the US and the UK have produced a series of reports
that attempt to ‘think the unthinkable in imagining future threats to
the security of the West.

The Olympic Act, which sets out various laws relating to the
Olympics, gives the right of forced entry into private property to
remove unauthorised advertising or protest banners. Even more worrying
is that the right of forced entry is extended outside the police force
to staff contracted to the ODA.

According to The Times security measures for the London Olympics
will include the nationwide use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act,
allowing police stop and search without suspicion. The London Olympics
and its security does not exist in isolation but in a continuum of
increasing state surveillance and security hysteria. Any extra powers
gained by the state over the citizenry should ring alarm bells because
of the danger they will become accepted and permanent.

A subcategory of Military Futurism known as Red Teaming is a way of
assessing your own security from the point of view of those who would
attack you, as though you are your own enemy. It is promoted as a way
of thinking without preconceptions or boundaries. Red Team journal
comments that …

[S]ome events also are so unlikely that their very
randomness lowers all obstacles to them occurring. […] This poses a
particular problem for red teaming and threat analysis. How can we plan
for every conceivable scenario? Or, to take a different tack, should
we? Being strong everywhere means being weak everywhere. One can easily
drain organizational resources planning for “movie-plot” WMD terrorism
only to be surprised by a group of men with machine guns. But
protecting the national interest is a [sic] task that must be
accomplished regardless of human weakness.(4)

The idea that we should “protect the national interest regardless of
human weakness” sounds more like a line from a Hollywood B movie than
something that should be taken seriously by government agencies, and
yet looking at the development of the London Olympic Security one can
imagine this is a way of thinking that has taken root.

Concerns over surveillance, security and privacy led a group of
academics to draft a public statement over these issues at the
Vancouver winter games.

having analyzed past and planned Olympics and other mega
events, from a variety of historical and international perspectives, we

* that recent Games have increasingly taken place in and
contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance;
* that this has often been to the detriment of democracy,
transparency and human rights, with serious implications for
international, national and local norms and laws.

These academics seem to have a point. Extrapolating further along
the graph of surveillance and securitisation one would predict that the
military/security/prison industrial complex will become increasingly
embedded, effective and difficult to dislodge. What would satiate the
appetite of this sector of the state apparatus would logically be a
point at which dissent becomes impossible.

New security technologies will make it possible to monitor
populations with only a small number of personnel and hence at minimal
cost. In theory this means a small minority could have the ability to
control a whole population and this should be seen as a potential
threat, ironically it should perhaps be a scenario Red Teaming should
plan against, however Red Teaming smacks more of maintaining an
incumbent elite than preventing it careering out of control.

Military futurism’s predictions of a dysfunctional society full of
threats could be a self-fulfilling prophesy, because as it attempts to
do the impossible, in “protecting” from all “conceivable scenarios”, it
must necessarily turn us all into suspects. Hence it has to reduce our
trust in each other, and eventually in the state apparatus itself.
London’s police force recently refused a Freedom of Information Request
on their plans to use spy drones, saying that

this [their reply] should not be taken as necessarily
indicating that any information that would meet your request exists or
does not exist.

In other words this is secret. AirRobot UK’s drone is small, silent
and difficult to spot. It can also be landed (perched) in hidden
locations such as rooftops in order carry out covert surveillance.

Enhanced by new technology Britain seems to be sleep walking towards
a big-brother state, which is camouflaging itself as means of
protecting ordinary “hard working families”. Yet life cannot exist
without risk and in this case trying to eliminate risk carries the
greater danger of dis-empowering and separating us from each other
while at the same time leaving a window of opportunity for a small
elite to monitor and control us.

Perhaps the cherry on the surveillance cake, and a technology that
could eventually make dissent difficult, is Threat Assessment and
Behavioral Analysis Software. This new innovation has the ability to
monitor CCTV images and recognise patterns of behavior. It is reported
to be under consideration for the London Olympics (3).

Text and photos © Mike Wells

Slouching Towards Dystopia: the new military futurism by
Matt Carr in Journal of Race and Class. Jan 2010; 51: 13-32