British Military to Fill Embarrassing Security Gap at the London Olympics

News that the government's security contractor has failed to meet its obligations to train 10,000 security guards—just 15 days before the opening ceremonies--has forced officials to enlist the help of the armed services

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Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Marines pass the Olympic rings outside the London 2012 Olympic Park at Stratford in London on July 12, 2012.

The British government denied that its Olympics security plan was in “shambles” this morning, shortly after admitting that is has called upon 3,500 military personnel to help guard the Olympic Games.

The decision to enlist the extra servicemen as security staff comes after the private security firm G4S revealed that it would not be able to train up and vet enough staff ahead of the Games.

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The news that the government’s security contractor has failed to meet its obligations to train 10,000 security guards—just 15 days before the opening ceremony—is a huge embarrassment for the Conservative-led coalition government. Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, Theresa May, Britain’s Home Secretary, said that G4S signed its £283 million ($437m) contract with the London Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and not with the government. She emphasized her belief that the Games, and the security surrounding it, will proceed without incident.

“I can confirm to the House that there remains no specific security threat to the Games and the threat level remains unchanged,” she said. “And let me reiterate that there is no question of Olympic security being compromised.”

The 3,500 additional troops bring the total number of military personnel working at the Games to 17,000. It’s not yet clear where they will be deployed, though it’s likely they will fill a variety of positions from checking bags at security check points to patrolling the grounds at key Olympic sites.

Soldiers, seamen, and airmen will serve their country as they always do, with a degree of selflessness. But the call to duty will surely annoy their loved ones who had hoped to spend some time with them. “Many of these extra 3,500 are soldiers who have just returned from Afghanistan or are about to deploy for Afghanistan,” retired colonel Richard Kemp told the BBC. “They are people who, I imagine, will be getting ready to go on well-deserved leave after six  months of operation. This will hit them very hard indeed.”

To make up for the inconvenience—and to save face—the government has thrown freebies at the troops. Service members will be able to recoup any leave they might miss and the government will reimburse them for cancelled holidays and travel expenses. In Parliament, May also said that troops had the opportunity to buy 2,000 tickets to the Olympic Park, that officials would grant 2,000 servicemen (and their families) spots to watch the Olympic cycle road races and marathon, and that 10,000 tickets had been donated to the armed forces via the program Tickets for Troops. Seven thousand tickets have also been offered to personnel for the dress rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies.

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