Feature

United Kingdom: Security debacle at the Olympics

The security firm contracted to provide 17,000 guards announced that it would fall short of its target.

Security for the London Olympics is a mess of disorganization and ineptitude, said Simon Hoggart in The Guardian. G4S, the security firm contracted to provide 17,000 guards, announced last week that it would not be able to train enough guards in time, and now the government is scrambling to provide at least 3,500 soldiers in addition to the thousands already deployed. All this just as more than a million people prepare to descend on the world’s most tempting terrorist target. How could the firm not have known until two weeks before the opening ceremony that it would fail to meet its contract? And why wasn’t the government regularly checking the firm’s progress? Both are at fault. It’s a “DNA-type scandal, as the two shambles twist round each other, interlocked in a death-embrace super-shambles unlike any we’ve seen.”

Even the guards G4S has trained are bumblers, said Stephen Wright and David Williams in the Daily Mail. To save money, the company hired thousands of teenagers and put them through the most rudimentary training, with a “no-fail” policy that certified even the most incompetent candidates. One whistle-blower who recorded some of the training sessions said recruits repeatedly failed to spot fake bombs during X-ray training, and one even missed a 9-millimeter pistol “stuffed in a test spectator’s sock.” Many can’t speak English.

That’s what you get when you outsource national security to a private firm, said Libby Purves in The Times. G4S cut corners wherever it could, “trying to keep costs down by not paying anyone for a minute longer than necessary.” That is in the very nature of private businesses, which is why we should not entrust them with vital security functions. It’s a mystery why the army wasn’t tasked with Olympic duty in the first place, said Mary Dejevsky in The Independent. Temps who are just doing a job are far less motivated and trustworthy than “people who are accustomed to taking orders and owe their allegiance to the Crown.”

Really? We should deploy our highly trained armed forces to X-ray baggage? said Matthew Norman in The Daily Telegraph. What an indignity to force these brave men and women to do such “staggeringly menial” work. How many of the thousands ordered to act “as makeshift, minimum-wage shopping mall cops” will be using up some of their precious time home from Afghanistan, which they hoped to spend with their long-suffering families? If we must use soldiers, at least don’t make the taxpayers pay, said the Mirror. An invoice for the cost of the troops, plus a compensation bonus for them, “must be sent to useless G4S.” And after that, an independent inquiry will have to look into how the government allowed this “fiasco” to occur.

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