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Keywords:

  • Olympic security;
  • Foucault;
  • policing;
  • governance

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Mega-event security is often characterised as an exceptional exercise in terms of scale, scope and form, and considered variously through macro-theoretical lenses citing the assertion of overarching disciplinary, neoliberal, colonial corporatist and other interest-based aspirations. Based on empirical analysis of the London 2012 Olympic security operation and of those who resisted it (including data drawn from interviews and participant observations with key security agencies and activists), this paper interrogates the complex, diverse and often fragmented contestations over space across the Olympic neighbourhood. Despite the professed unity of purpose among Olympic planners (such as the protection of sponsors' access to the marketplace), more detailed analysis reveals both the application and purpose of ordering processes as contested and sometimes contradictory realms. Here, the longstanding recognition that space is used in simultaneously diverse ways is reflected in its control. Drawing on Foucauldian notions of security different impositions of order – regulatory, exclusionary, disciplinary, suggestive and assuasive – are argued to exist simultaneously in the same broadly defined area.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The scale of the Games and its associated infrastructure is truly dizzying. Played out before a television audience of billions, 10.8 million tickets were sold for events at 34 venues, reached by three million additional public transport trips, to watch more than 10 000 athletes over 16 days of competition. At peak times, more than 300 000 visitors would congregate at one of the smallest Olympic Parks in the Games' recent history, a 2.5 km2 site compressed between Stratford, Leyton and Hackney Wick. Such a spectacle was accompanied by a security operation of unprecedented peacetime proportions.

To host an Olympics, the state is required to provide the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with a ‘Government Security Guarantee’, which does not come cheap in either human or financial resources. A total of 89 000 police officers (of 136 000 in England and Wales) were deployed on peak days. A third of those were associated with specialist operations teams. Stressing the sterilisation of the Olympic Park itself once its much discussed perimeter security had been negotiated, policing was designed to be ‘light touch at the venue’ (Broadhurst 2012). Thus the Olympic Park was intended as a sanctified ‘inner core’ with intensified security permeating adjacent neighbourhoods and transport infrastructures. With much publicised militarised airport-style perimeters, traversed only by the Olympic family, dignitaries and the holders of scarce Olympic tickets, it was outside the park where security was most heavily focused and the principle non-sporting contestations took place.

Coalitions did not just exist between different police forces. The Olympic Security Directorate comprised a nodal point to draw together, lead and shape a shared strategy for over 30 different agencies (interview with OSD officer August 2008). Key among these were the military, volunteers and the private sector. From the outset private security providers were integral to the plan. As customary with mega-event security planning, large multinationals dominated the procurement processes: Rapiscan supplied screening equipment, Honeywell provided technology, and Allendale was the main fencing contractor. Most prominent were G4S – the self-proclaimed global leader of security personnel provision and, also, Olympic sponsor – who spectacularly failed to meet their obligations. As this paper relates, such failures hold significant ramifications for the practical delivery of London's Olympic security programme, coherency of purpose, the political posturing of its constituent organisations and ways in which such large-scale security operations can be understood conceptually.

Olympic security in some ways reflects the architectural ambitions of the Games themselves: spectacular grandiose edifices, externally focused and designed for consumption by global audiences, and ephemeral in purpose and existence. Similar to other features of Olympic hosting, the security programme extends and resonates far beyond its Olympic Park. This paper does not aim to provide a detailed inventory of Olympic security measures. Many have already been done (e.g. Fussey and Coaffee 2012) and yet another description would add little to this discussion. Moreover, such is the extraordinary scale of Olympic security, exhaustive lists of military and policing asset deployment invite interpretations of ‘lockdown London’ (Graham 2012), or of overly cohesive coalitions of coercive operators. Indeed, for some, the scale and scope of these operations have been translated into conceptualisations of monolithic repressive state–corporate coalitions of coercion (inter alia Sugden 2012). This paper argues that whilst these accounts, common in the literature, have much to offer, detailed examination of London's security programme reveals how Olympic-sized operations are also characterised by complexity and contradiction. This paper examines the way Olympic spaces are governed and considers the heterogeneity of organisational coalitions, plurality of coercive ambitions and their coherency across different spaces. Olympic security varyingly operates at multiple scales, across different temporalities, myriad spaces and for diverse purposes.

This paper accepts entirely that the Games shepherded in a suite of military, civil, judicial, territorial and privatised coercive apparatus which were controversial and significantly impacted on the lives of many, particularly those on the margins of society. Many examples of which are detailed below. Yet it also argues that these processes are also defined by significant complexity and do not always easily lend themselves to straightforward linear depictions of power. Although often seen variously through macro-theoretical lenses – including the imposition of overarching neoliberal, colonial corporatist and other interest-based orders – such unity of purpose is at times inconsistent in the delivery of Olympic security. This paper argues that on close empirical analysis, the curation, ambitions, delivery and impact of the London 2012 Olympic security strategy constitute more complex and contested realms.

To interrogate the form, impact and ambitions for coercive control at the 2012 Olympics in London, this paper is organised over seven areas of discussion. First it explores some of the conceptual terrain surrounding the security of mega-events and the convergence of formerly distinct realms of external and internal security. The paper then outlines the methodological approach before presenting four thematic empirically informed sections: security aims, Olympic insecurities, the convergence of actors, and the divergences in the Olympic security operation. The paper concludes with conceptual reflection on the diverse governance and applications of social control that shape Olympic security practices.

Conceptualising urban security

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The urban impact of security practices at sporting mega-events have become fertile conceptual territory and recent years have seen an increasing number of theoretical resources deployed in their analysis, including those as diverse as neo-Marxist approaches (Eick 2011) and the use of Agamben (Fussey et al. 2011) and Bourdieu (Giulianotti and Klauser 2010). Indeed, the scale, breadth and seeming novelty of many mega-event security practices makes available an abundance of theoretical resources and explanations. Nevertheless, this paper argues that London's Olympic security programme may be analysed within a number of existing patterns and processes of urban security governance. Whilst the Olympics saw some truly exceptional security measures (surface-to-air missiles mounted on residential accommodation or mass troop deployments), many of these were removed after the games. A more enduring trend was the acceleration and intensification of many of London's existing urban security practices and governance arrangements rather than a long-term and lasting transformation of purpose.

Central among these broader trends of urban security governance is the collapsing distinction between internal and external security realms, as identified before 9/11 by Bigo (2000 2001). For Bigo (2001) and others it is no longer appropriate to consider ‘internal’ and ‘external’ security as distinct domains where domestic interiors are sterilised and encircled by borders. Moreover, as Fussey et al. (2012) argued in their spatial application of Douglas' (1966) anthropological notions of ‘purity’, attempts to sanctify urban areas always generate new ambiguities and insecurities and will thus ultimately fail. Whilst Bigo viewed the response to migration as a primary driver for this convergence, the attacks in Madrid and London's urban mass transit systems during 2004 and 2005 and the intensified focus on endogenous risks and domestic populations serve to validate his thesis further. Thus, what was once national security has become an ‘everyday securitisation from the enemy within’ (Bigo 2001, 112).

One key process driving this securitisation of the everyday has been the convergence of more prosaic crime control infrastructures with the activities of counter-terrorism. As Mythen and Walklate (2006, 392) note with reference to counter-terrorism, we can ‘visualise the formation of a “crime complex”, through which economic, political and cultural interests are coalescing’. Indeed, since 9/11 many core counter-terrorism practices can be seen to map closely against a number of long-term changes occurring in broader crime and social control practices over the last few decades. Accordingly, many recent counter-terrorism practices have adopted the crime prevention mantra that ‘changing people is difficult and expensive’ (Simon 1988, 773), where perpetrator-centred causation-focused perspectives of transgression have been abandoned (inter alia Cohen 1985). Instead, threats are ‘managed’ through techniques such as target hardening, surveillance, defensible space or actuarial categorisations of suspicion. Such practices have been central to the design of London's Olympic venues, with the use of ‘crime prevention advisers and drawing on existing crime prevention knowledge’ based on the idea that ‘basic crime prevention is the cornerstone of counter-terrorism’ as the head of venue security for the Olympic Security Directorate put it (Busby 2012, np). Inherent within these approaches is an emphasis on efficiency over less tangible, more costly and labour-intensive rehabilitative social control strategies. This relegation of the more ‘social’ elements of social control has been controversial. Zedner (2009), for example, argues that these emphases on anticipatory control have acquired greater importance than notions of justice. In Weberian terms, such transitions mark a modernist shift from ‘substantive’ to ‘formal’ rationality where specific bureaucratic processes gain ascendancy over broader affective and moral concerns.

This meeting of crime control and counter-terrorism, the ‘de-differentiation’ (Bigo 2000, 110) of internal and external security, and the securitisation of the everyday has drawn multiple new actors and agencies into the dispatch of counter-terrorism. With them come diverse practices, orthodoxies, values and path dependencies. These in turn complicate the delivery of security and exert varying ambitions for the exercise of social control. As Rose (2000) argued in relation to risk management strategies, such approaches generate contradictory results, with outcomes that may both include and exclude different subjects of control. Nor are spatial articulations of control reducible to binaries of inclusion and exclusion or permission and prohibition. Thus, competing aspirations and functions of control may exist simultaneously. Zukin (1995) famously recognised how urban space holds multiple divergent and simultaneous uses. In this sense, the same can be said about its control and regulation.

The scale, diversity, fluctuating intensity and potentially paradoxical nature of sporting mega-event security thus require a shift away from monolithic characterisations of control. Instead, this paper argues for the importance of drawing on theoretical approaches that recognise and accommodate complexity and paradox in the dispatch of coercive practices. It acknowledges and seeks to build on some recent and convincing theoretical developments in the analysis of urban mega-event security. In particular, Klauser's (2013) work on the spatialities of surveillance and control and the UEFA Euro 2008 championships may be considered a touchstone on the field, acknowledging that whilst sporting mega-events generate initiatives to close off and ‘sanctify’ certain territories, the wider urban setting is also key to the broader ensemble of security practices. Thus a key part of Klauser's (2013) analysis focuses on how people and objects are mobilised, monitored and filtered and between fortified places. In doing so, the process of circulation gains importance. Here, Foucault's (2007) work on the way security operates to delineate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ flows as they circulate the city, rather than impose blanket regimes of prohibition (sovereignty) or ubiquitous micro-level incentives to normalise behaviour (discipline), is key. This paper acknowledges the contribution of Klauser's work, particularly the evocation of Foucauldian (2007) notions of circulatory ‘security’, and seeks to develop this theoretical insight with respect to London's 2012 Olympic security programme. In doing so it further seeks to extend the analysis of Foucauldian notions of security beyond circulation to understand the complex governance of such events.

Complex and heterogeneous governance was, of course, a central theme of Foucault's (1991) famous ‘governmentality’ lecture. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, this thesis became central to analyses of plural, non-state and neoliberal articulations of social control and coercion. While not reducible to a single paradigm, a number of clusters of governmentality-informed analysis are observable. Particularly prominent here were criminological critiques that saw the privatisation and individual ‘responsibilisation’ of security practices (Garland 1996). Others drew a strong connection between diversifying governance of urban social control and the quickening pace of neoliberalism (Coleman and Sim 2000). Other studies of counter-terrorist articulations of security interrogated the nexus of governmentality and the ascendancy of risk-based practices. Here, ‘governing through risk’ involves the application of specialist logics and rationalities that shape the governance, ambitions and delivery of security (Aradau and Van Munster 2007).

However, ‘governmentality’ is often analysed as an isolated work but was, in fact, one of a series of 13 lectures delivered at the Collège de France during 1977–87, recently collected and translated into Security, territory, population (Foucault 2007). Recourse to this wider body of lectures provides a vehicle to analyse several interlocking themes, which have only started to become analysed in relation to urban security (Klauser 2013; Fussey 2013). Particularly important here is Foucault's rejection of an epoch-based progression of one form of power (i.e. sovereign) to another (i.e. discipline) in favour of more complex combinations of various forms of power with varying emphases, rather than sequences, of control. Building on ideas developed in The history of sexuality volume 1 (1990), one of the key contributions of Security, territory, population was the identification of several multi-scalar levels of power operating simultaneously. Key to Foucault's analysis was how power operated at a more macro level of the population (for example, in terms of identifying epidemiological trends of health and disease contagion) as well as within micro-level disciplinary controls. This recognition of different scales also provides a means for the state to become reinstated within complex networks of coercive agents.

These new combinations of power also mark a shift from territorial dominance as a form of control, to something that seeks to monitor and assess phenomena in situ and then delineate negative from positive flows as they circulate around the city. In his early lectures Foucault uses examples of urban planning, food scarcity and the smallpox epidemic to illustrate how such circulatory security practices operate. Regarding the urban setting, that most apposite to the subject of this paper, Foucault traces the development of Nantes in the eighteenth century from walled city under sovereign control to its re-making through the growth of mercantile capitalism. As commercial activity developed, the city became more crowded and interconnected with its surrounding areas. More room was required to accommodate growing urban and peri-urban populations alongside greater economic and administrative functions. So Nantes grew by cutting routes through the town to enable hygiene and ventilation, develop trade and connect urban streets to external roads outside the city (to allow the transportation of goods). Under such circumstances, opening the city to commercial growth rendered existing forms of sovereign control of space (such as territorial demarcation) redundant. To survive commercially, the city had to remove its traditional forms of protection. Thus rather than prohibiting movement or subjugating entire populations, surveillance and control then became focused on identifying and demarcating the more negative flows of undesirable ‘floating populations’; making divisions between good and bad circulation, ‘maximising the good circulation by diminishing the bad’ (Foucault 2007, 18). Thus, security is unlike discipline which ‘works in an empty, artificial space that is to be completely constructed’ (Foucault 2007, 19). Some Olympic spaces are artificial yet most are located in an extant urban milieu.

Methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Such proliferations of actors, agencies and interpretations of security practice necessitate a methodological approach capable of revealing myriad approaches, discourses and activities articulated and performed by those charged with dispensing Olympic security. To understand how ‘security’ is socially and organisationally generated and given meaning, the empirical approach adopts a constructivist ontological position. This in turn invites qualitative tools of investigation and, given the diversity of actors and approaches, multiple strategies for collecting data.

Methods of data collection for this paper comprised ethnographic and semi-structured interview techniques. Data collection commenced in 2005 and continued beyond the conclusion of the Games in the summer of 2012. I spent eight days accompanying the police on patrol in and around key transport hubs during the Games and conducted over 40 interviews with operational and strategic security professionals. Access negotiations commenced in 2008 and, during this period, I conducted more than 20 additional interviews with security planners. Participants included practitioners across different levels, including frontline patrol officers, strategic policymakers in central government, the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Transport for London and government security agencies. Ethnographic work also extended beyond police patrols to observations of operational briefings, surveillance camera suites and pre-Games planning exercises. Further data were collected through attending practitioner conferences. A condition of access was an agreement to grant anonymity to the police force I accompanied on patrol.

In addition to the more formal elements of the fieldwork, built on sustained access to practitioner communities, I have spent significant periods of time within the Olympic neighbourhood, the wider urban context that staged the Games. I have lived within 2 km of the Olympic park for more than a decade. Between 2003 and 2010, I worked less than 200 m from the Olympic site and was in or passed through Stratford every day of the Games and for most of the preceding decade. This sustained engagement enabled a strong understanding of how security activities impacted on the local setting. This local engagement enabled access to the local political scene, the attempts to mobilise opposition to the Games (surface-to-air missiles were deployed less than 200 m from my home), and allowed informed judgements to be made on the significance of and discourses of resistance. Local identity also procured access to activist events and lent credibility to approaches to interview activists and other recipients of Olympic security practices. In accessing the latter, interviews were conducted with those arrested as part of the ‘critical mass’ cycling action on the eve of the Games (as well as attending legal meetings for those arrested), individuals subjected to ‘Olympic Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)’, restrictive Olympic-related bail conditions, those arrested during protests against the building of Olympic venues and those displaced by the construction of the Olympic site. Data collection was further supplemented by the targeted monitoring of social media sites during the Games.

Security aims

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Accompanying the heterogeneity of actors and agencies comprising the Olympic security ensemble were a set of broad, diverse and dynamic operational priorities. In early 2012, these were outlined as:

  1. borders;
  2. transport;
  3. VIP protection;
  4. venue security;
  5. mitigating disruptive elements;
  6. intelligence of threats;
  7. disrupting those who pose a threat to the games;
  8. deploying resources and personnel effectively;
  9. maintaining effective command and control and coordination;
  10. ensuring parallel events are safe and secure;
  11. reassuring the public;
  12. obtaining effective support from informational partners. (Raine 2012)

Given such breadth, decisions are necessarily made on which to prioritise. Moreover, this span of loosely defined operations affords scope for refocusing priorities as the security operation progresses. A case in point here is the shift in emphasis between some of the testing events and during Games time.

Formal testing of Olympic security structures, processes and assets took place between July 2010 and April 2012. A number of key priorities guided such experiments. These included the establishment of hierarchical primacy and pathways of communications (Bairsto 2012), ensuring effective communication between key actors (interview with senior Olympic testing planner January 2013) and, in terms of specific threats, capabilities to counter terrorism, air transport disruption and to address accreditation issues (Scott 2012)1. Emphases were thus placed on high-profile and extremely serious security incidents, a focus that was to become largely replaced as the Games progressed without major incident and the security infrastructure became to some extent repurposed.

Another component of changing security priorities concerned issues of order maintenance. From Autumn 2011 there was a growing emphasis on public order and organised protest following the Occupy St Paul's protest and, separately, the summer disturbances of that year. This connection between public order and Olympic security was bound further by the Home Secretary in a speech to security practitioners during January 2012, when she identified the emerging threat of encampment protest and urged LOCOG to adopt screening measures for tents and associated equipment. The result was an amendment to the prohibited items list displayed at every entrance to each Olympic site, listing ‘demonstration articles’ (and a symbol of a tent) next to ‘knives’, ‘firearms and ammunition’ and ‘offensive weapons’ (Plate 1). Further shifts occurred as the Games progressed, notably this included enhanced emphasis on the mobility, circulation and transfer of crowds.

figure

Plate 1. Prohibited items

Source: photo by author

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Insecurities and mutual mistrust

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

‘Security’, wrote Mary Louise Pratt (2004, 140), ‘is one of those words like “celibacy” or “short”, that invokes its opposite’. Similar anxious antitheses defined parts of London's Olympian security programme. These included insecurities in the formal sense, such as the explicit threats that accompany all Olympic Games, but other anxieties also emerged. Austerity measures were set to activate once the Olympics had concluded, leading to significant political positioning by practitioners during the Games. Particularly exposed to these post-Olympic cuts were the military and the police. Moreover, private sector security operators, particularly G4S, a key partner in the Olympic security operation, were poised to assume control of many core functions soon to be relinquished by the police.

Considerable anxieties also characterised (and fractionated) relations between agencies and organisations. As the Olympics progressed without major incident unease crept into some relationships as the following ethnographic fieldnotes highlight:

Daily conference call between different policing and private security organisations two days before the Closing Ceremony. The chair restates general priorities and provides intelligence picture regarding some low level criminality. The chair remarks on how well things are going but warns against complacency. Twenty minutes later, one conference call participant calls to ask why they were being warned about complacency, demanding to know what intelligence was being withheld and why knowledge of threats was not being shared.

Friday 10 August 2012

Heightened suspicions also existed among more familiar adversaries. One area of suspicion was the widely held belief among activists that Special Branch police officers (officers with intelligence roles investigating serious crimes and matters of national security) were deployed under more public-facing identities. One activist – whose house on the Clays Lane estate had been demolished to make way for the Olympic Village – became involved in the Save Leyton Marshes campaign, an attempt to prevent the Olympic Delivery Authority building a basketball training facility on protected green spaces in East London. He describes events leading up to his arrest and subjection to (Olympic-related) bail conditions:

As the developers started to move their machinery in, two ‘community liaison’ police officers, PCSOs, appeared. They wanted to hear ‘our side of the story’ and to ensure relations with the police were good. They were sharp and obviously intelligent. You've seen the news recently about Special Branch infiltrating activist movements. I've no doubt these were the same.

Interview 31 July 2012

Despite the fears of terrorism (there was one credible threat of a cyber attack to the opening ceremony, reminiscent of a similar attempt at Albertville in 1992), public order and ticket touting represented the vast majority of arrests during the Olympic period. Across the three key Olympic policing areas – Central, Park and River – 276 arrests were made during the 22 days of the Games. These broke down to one arrest under antiterrorism legislation (a bomb hoax), 168 for ticket touting offences, 22 drug offences, 11 for theft, 10 for fraud, five for robbery and two for burglary (Channel 4 2012). Yet there is much that is excluded from these statistics. High volumes of passengers led to a slight increase in ‘TPP’ (theft of passenger property) offences at some of the large transport hubs feeding the Games (interview with Police Bronze Commander 14 August 2012). Most notably absent from these statistics is the kettling and mass arrest of 182 cyclists participating in a monthly ‘critical mass’ ride on 27 July, the eve of the Games. Only 16 were subsequently interviewed by the police and just three actually charged. All were placed under stringent bail conditions until after the Games (see below) despite not being charged with any offence.

Given the breadth of activities defined by the Metropolitan Police Service as ‘any crime that has or may have an impact upon the effective delivery or image of the Games’ (The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association 2012, emphasis added) definitions of offences encompassed potential threats to the presentation of the Games to external audiences or challenges to the commercial monopolies of Olympic sponsors. Notable excesses in this area include pre-emptive arrests of graffiti artists, including one, ‘Ser’ (Darren Cullen), who had previously been approached by Team GB to adorn part of the Olympic Village with ‘urban’ aesthetics. Like the cyclists, these individuals were also placed under strict bail conditions throughout the duration of the Games (Vice 2012). In Surrey, a man with Parkinson's disease, causing muscle rigidity in his face was arrested for ‘not smiling’ during the men's cycling road race (police claimed they were concerned about his demeanour, proximity to protestors and that he was ‘not visibly enjoying the event’) (The Guardian 2012). In Glasgow, a man watching his daughter compete in the women's football was threatened with ejection and possible arrest for waving the non-IOC endorsed Gwenn-ha-du, the flag of Brittany, to celebrate her regional affiliation (Le Parisien 2012). Yet, the police themselves were not immune from such zealous forms of image management, with those policing the rowing events at Eton Dorney being forced to empty their snacks into clear bags to avoid inadvertently advertising non-sponsors' lines in junk food (The Daily Telegraph 2012). Yet, as many analyses of security, both practical (Busby 2012) and theoretical (e.g. Foucault 2007), complete territorial control, particularly across large and complex spaces such as the Olympic city, is impossible. For all the emphasis on draconian image management, some high-profile contraventions did take place. One was War on Want's protest of Adidas' alleged use of sweatshop labour, projected onto Dennison Point, a housing block overlooking the Olympic Park temporarily converted to accommodate the international media (Plate 2).

figure

Plate 2. Subverting Olympic sponsors' corporate messages

Source: photo by Guy Smallman, reproduced courtesy of War on Want

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Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The scale and diversity of agencies and actors comprising London's Olympic security operation left it difficult to impose a single unifying vision of operations and placed a premium on marshalling, co-ordination and communication strategies. Indeed, from Munich onwards, a common failure of mega-event security has been an inability to overcome the fissures between the plates of different security organisations. To emphasise the point, one of the biggest investments in technological security equipment was not in sophisticated video analytics or motion sensing (although these were deployed), but in radio equipment that could be used across the emergency services ‘Airwave’ (West 2009).

Other procedural practices served to coagulate different social control agencies together. One example is the convergence of the police and the judiciary, reminiscent of criminal justice responses during one of Britain's bitterest industrial disputes, the Miners' strike of 1984–5. As Green's (1990) research highlighted, police would arrest ‘flying pickets’ (miners who travelled to reinforce picket lines at collieries in different regions) in the knowledge that magistrates would place bail conditions that would subsequently restrict the defendant's freedom of movement. Thus, for Green (1990, 95), bail was a ‘tactical weapon’ to weaken picket lines, ease working miners' access to collieries and represented a joining of the judiciary and police to defend the interests of the mine-owning National Coal Board. Good and bad circulations would be separated. In a variation on this theme, the police used bail conditions to great effect to control the movements of broadly defined ‘problem populations’ during the Olympics.

Of the arrested critical mass cyclists, the vast majority were released subject to stringent bail conditions lasting until after the Games. Conditions included ‘not to go within 100 yards of any Olympic venue’, ‘not to take part in any activity that disrupts … official activities of the Olympic Games’, ‘not to enter the Borough of Newham [sic] whilst in possession of a bicycle’ and ‘not to enter an Olympic only carriageway’ (text from Conditional Bail sheet shown to author by one ‘Critical Mass’ arrestee). Graffiti artists rounded up before the opening ceremony were placed under similar conditions, including the prohibited use of London's mass transit systems and of being within a mile of any Olympic venue until two months after the Games (Vice 2012). Bail conditions applied for long periods, covering the Games, without innocence or guilt being established. Thus seemingly negative circulations were identified, isolated and nullified.

For recipients, the ambiguity and scope of conditions rendered them difficult to adhere to and added the additional anxiety that they continually risked further punishment. As another Critical Mass arrestee explained: ‘I'm not allowed within 100 yards of an Olympic venue. The city is full of them. And I'm not sure what they mean by ‘Olympic venue’. I could be in breach at any time without knowing it. I mean, they took my DNA’ (interview 8 August).

Another individual, arrested during the Save Leyton Marsh campaign was placed under similar conditions until his (subsequently postponed) court date in September 2012, expressed similar concerns: ‘there are times when I won't know if I'm near an Olympic venue, like when I'm in central London … I've got no idea if or which roads are classed as Olympic roads or not’ (interview 31 July 2012). His bail conditions contained additional ambiguities. The definition of venues was further widened to state those ‘complete or under construction’. On asking formal clarification from the police this participant merely received a letter stating the same conditions with no further elaboration. Moreover, this individual was left in little doubt that the police aimed to keep him away from the Games for their duration: ‘the police officer actually said “we think you're set on disrupting the Olympics”. I was in custody, denied bail, for a further six days before I appeared before another magistrate’ (interview 31 July 2012).

Restrictions on others were more stringent. One recipient of a bespoke ‘Olympic ASBO’ explained how the conditions of his restrictions were similar to those listed above with the exception that they were to remain in place for two years (interview 9 August 2012).

Whilst coercive state agencies combined to significant affect in identifying and isolating perceived threats, there were variations in the intensity, potency and form. By marshalling disparate actors and creating broader edifices of security, state agencies were not always executing a totality of control but, rather, and resonant with Foucault's (2007) notion of the ‘milieu’, shaping the context in which security activities are performed. For Foucault, the milieu does ‘not so much establish … limits and frontiers, or fixing locations, as … essentially, making possible, guaranteeing, and ensuring circulations: circulation of people, merchandise, and air et cetera’ (Foucault 2007, 29).

In relation to Olympic security planning, resourcing hardware, building venues, establishing regulatory regimes and manipulating the environment in which social control activities are performed are ways in which the state may be seen to set the parameters for, or shape the milieu of, security operations. However, akin to Kafka's (1997 [1941]) depiction of The Castle – where despite an imposing appearance and seeming omniscience, it is unreachable and, on closer inspection, tenuously held together with elements flaking away – edifices of Olympic security do not always live up to their appearances of scale, cohesion and capacity.

Mind the gap

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Complex governance of the Olympic city left some spaces overly administered, subject to competing claims for sovereignty and necessitating complex co-ordination procedures. Conversely, other spaces, many critically located, were more arid in this respect. From 2010 onwards there was a growing realisation among Olympic organisers of how grey spaces between the termination of transport routes and the boundary of Olympic venues fell between territorial jurisdictions. In London, attempts to specify ownership of such spaces were attempted through the ‘Last Mile’ initiative, essentially bringing them under the control of LOCOG and, to some extent, the police. Yet such attempts at ordering also generated numerous ambiguities. These included the porosity of borders and the failure to establish hierarchies of territorial control, leading to the establishment of governance based on temporal and other expediencies

Urban scholarship has increasingly emphasised the ubiquity of urban borders in recent years (Graham 2010; Klauser 2013). Yet, for all the attention to demarcated spaces accessed by the privileged, many urban Olympic perimeters were porous and their integrity maintained with inconstant intensity. Whilst undertaking ethnographic research accompanying police patrols during the Games I was repeatedly allowed to traverse these boundaries without accreditation: I was vouched for and then became familiar. Elsewhere, I accompanied a national Olympic team through one of London's international borders at the conclusion of the Games, where tense atmospherics of suspicion and security were replaced with tangible festivity and police officers posing for pictures with medal winners. Despite the ubiquity of borders that internally configure and demarcate the urban realm, their exclusionary potential and totality is not always realised. Even in these highly regulated spaces borders are routinely relaxed and event security becomes negotiated and transactional. Klauser's (2013) work identifies how the form and intensity of accessibility controls vary over different urban settings. For London, access controls vary within the same setting. Here, good flows are permitted and assisted in their traversal of borders and boundaries.

For many key agencies, particularly Transport for London, the key priority once the Games began entailed maximising the flow of crowds towards the nearby Olympic Park. Many obstacles hindered these ambitions. In a crowded spot outside Stratford station where cycle racks had recently been removed at a cost of £14 000 due to fears of terrorism and to alleviate crowd bottlenecks, LOCOG employed entertainers to cultivate a festive atmosphere, inviting crowds to develop and dwell. Nearby, obstructing the route between the station and the park were representatives of the London Borough of Newham, handing out fliers detailing the attractions of the local area to Olympic visitors. A common operational tension within heavily securitised spaces (such as airports) is that between the intensity of security and the degree of crowd flow, here tensions exist between festivity and flow. In addition to antagonising crowd managers, such incursions contrasted sharply with the treatment of others advertising enticements of a more pietistic kind. Here, religious activists – including lone Christian evangelists and more numerous aspirant proselytisers of ‘Team Islam’ – occupied the same small patch of territory. Both engaged in loud and often heated expressions of faith. Initially, these were tolerated by security agencies yet within a few days such activities were shifted to the periphery of the square, within earshot of passers-by but more than an arm's (and flier's) length away.

An associated issue concerns the policing of protest. Despite much correctly being made of the legislative capacity and organisational intent to smother Games-time protests, numerous demonstrations were observed during the period. Whilst none numbered more than a few hundred activists (and many involved single figures) it is clear that significant discretion was afforded to the policing of such events. The train driver's union, the RMT, for example, was allowed to demonstrate and articulate their grievances through loudhailers on numerous occasions outside Stratford station, a privilege not extended to the range of religious activists. The intensity of policing also varied. As one police officer in charge of policing a demonstration against the Bangladeshi President outside a central London hotel also accommodating the IOC hierarchy commented: ‘they're angry but doing no harm. Someone threw an egg. It landed on the pavement. It's no big deal and really not worth the hassle of going in and having a confrontation or risking enflaming things. Let them have their shout and go home’ (interview 6 August 2012). Such accounts demonstrate the disconnection between the potentiality of control measures and their realisation in arenas of uncertainty. In doing so, it suggests the need to avoid expressing deterministic interpretations of social control: laws against protest existed but, as these incidents demonstrate, were inconsistently enforced.

Policing diversity

Overlapping claims for the right to operate in the same ‘Last Mile’ space were both welcome and unwelcome. The edge of Stratford station marked the boundary of British Transport Police's jurisdiction; yet, due to expertise in key elements of counter-terrorism, their influence bled into adjacent domains. Traditional tensions between security agencies became played out in these peripheral spaces. For example, different state-funded policing agencies have significantly different priorities. The British Transport Police place a premium on resolving incidents quickly to reinstate transport services and minimise delays to commercial transport providers. Others, such as the Metropolitan Police, often prioritise the evidential value of a site and may seek to isolate, evacuate and examine spaces. These differences were articulated during one of the three suspicious package episodes occurring in Stratford during the Games. Here, a discarded laptop box was left on the bus outside the main transport hub feeding the Olympic Park. One senior crowd manager described the difference in approaches of two police organisations:

The Met's [Metropolitan Police] initial reaction was evacuate everyone and investigate the package. But there are 60 000 people going through here a day and that would have caused chaos. A BTP [British Transport Police] officer came over, took one look and said ‘it's a box. Probably some journalist left it there’. There was no need to evacuate.

Interview August 2012

In other incidents a lack, rather than excess, of zealousness generated tensions. As the same crowd manager explained:

Two ‘Asian’ youths were taking photographs of security features including CCTV cameras. It was a textbook case where you would want to at least ask some questions. I radioed this through to the Met. It was dealt with by mutual aid. I followed the suspects on CCTV, and saw they were allowed to go into the Westfield centre unchallenged. When I followed up the case, the mutual aid officer said they had sent some PCSO to stand next to the suspects. And because they were not talking explicitly about terrorism they thought there was no threat. This goes against even the most basic training on hostile reconnaissance.

Interview August 2012

Mutual aid police, officers imported from one of the UK's 42 non-London based constabularies, were conspicuous across the capital during the Olympics. For some, Olympic policing represented a first visit to the capital (interview with Heddlu Dyfed-Powys police officer 8 August 2012). For others, the novelty and exceptionality of London caused problems. According to one police officer from London, off-duty mutual aid officers from Liverpool intoxicated with Olympic fervour, became involved in public order disturbances in Hatfield during the opening days and were sent home. In and around the Olympic Park some officers from outside London struggled to adapt to the ambiguities of the city and the increased need for discretion over minor incidents. As one operations manager in Stratford explained:

It was originally envisaged that new [non-London] police be used inside the Olympic Park because it's a sterile zone and there'd be less to do there. In fact they were stationed everywhere and it created extra work. All reports of [public order offences] in the opening days were made by mutual aid.

Interview 9 September 2012

Drafting large numbers of officers from outside of London meant there were different interpretations of suspicious and offending behaviour, much of which occurred without the tacit and experiential knowledge normally deployed when policing the complex urban realm.

Private disagreements

We are to event security what the Swiss are to watches.

G4S Director of Major Events, January 2012 (Horseman-Sewell 2012, np)

In addition to notions of ‘partnership’, ‘business as usual’ became a similarly prominent mantra during the Games. This element of Olympic security was predicated on multiple operational normalities of different partner agencies being played out. Such processes resonate with ideas that the aims of security practices are not necessarily about a singularity of vision but, rather, as Amoore (2009, 55) argues, an ‘interplay of differential normalities’. Thus, mega-event security practices are extensions and variations on more deep-rooted operational path dependencies and orthodoxies of partner agencies. Yet the increase in intensity and scale of operations brings a babel of ‘business as usual’ approaches into the practice of Olympic security operations.

Particular disparities existed between LOCOG and private venue and private security providers. Security managers at the ExCel Exhibition Centre, the largest venue outside of the Olympic Park, repeatedly criticised LOCOG for excluding them from security planning until the very late stages (interview with security planner January 2012). Moreover, LOCOG had previously insisted that private security provider (and Games sponsor) G4S should replace individual venue's in-house officers. Not only does such insistence contradict established best practices of security provision (e.g. the value afforded to tacit and experiential knowledge of a given environment), once it was clear that G4S would spectacularly fail to meet their obligations and hubristic assessment of their capabilities, LOCOG were forced to backtrack and allow existing security officers and the military to staff these venues.

G4S were not the first choice for other Olympic security planners. The plaza directly outside of Stratford station, the transport hub serving the Games, was patrolled by private security guards from a different company, Mackenzie Arnold. According to one crowd manager, these guards were chosen for their symbolic value:

they're big guys. Many of them have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. They know what they're doing and are capable of a giving a robust response if you need them to. They're paid well above the going rate for G4S guards and, frankly, we didn't want the meek and mild guys they [G4S] were offering. Not here.

Interview August 2012

The most prominent issue affecting private security during the Games was the failure of G4S to fulfil their £284 million contract to provide security services. The key components of this contract included provision of 13 000 security personnel and 62 000 training modules. In ironic anticipation of what was to follow, these training modules were not only aimed at educating aspirant guards but also designed to provide training for the military. Publicly, G4S' biggest failure was in their inability to meet their contractual obligation to provide the 13 000 guards. This situation arose during an Autumn 2011 review of Olympic security operations when, just after England's summer riots, the Home Office increased its demand for 10 000 security guards to 23 700. As well as distending G4S' contract from £86 million to £246 million, the Public Accounts Committee noted the larger contact had not ‘secured any price advantage’ for LOCOG (PAC 2012, 3). In other words, late planning and desperation from LOCOG had meant G4S had conferred none of the advantages of economies of scale and bulk ordering to the public purse.

Particularly notable was the government's (disingenuous) surprise that accompanied G4S' failure. In February 2012 it was already becoming clear that despite myriad recruiting strategies, including the diversion of 16–18 year olds from further education so they could train in the essentials of bag searching (Fussey et al. 2011), it was clear that ‘G4S, now face a significant challenge to recruit, train and coordinate all the security guards in time for the Games’ (PAC 2012, 3). Moreover, the advanced nature of the military contingency plan suggests G4S' failure was hardly unanticipated by the government. Indeed, the head of Olympic security for the British Security Industry Association revealed as early as 2008 that, at the time, the industry would struggle to recruit as few as 2000 guards (interview October 2008). Multiple reasons may explain G4S' failure. According to one of their directors, G4S' contracting model is an ‘input waste model’, which means they make the plan and then seek resources to ensure little ‘waste’. For employees, the failure was due to the extreme casualisation of the company's business model, leaving very little capacity for when demand for services rapidly increased (G4S employee, interview 15 July 2012). Other existing employees cited poor working conditions at major events:

Most guys I know did not want to do the Olympics. They thought it would be a bad experience. I've worked on a few of the big [horse]races and, at the end of the shifts, those working on a casual basis are mutinous. Hours are often arbitrarily extended. You don't know when you're finishing. When you do finish, you've got a long walk and then queue with 200 other blokes to clock off. All unpaid.

Interview 18 July 2012

Tensions thus existed both between and within different elements of the Olympic security ensemble. To underline the point, hapless G4S employees employed to assist the security of one of London's major transport hubs had their uniforms stolen from their locker room on the eve of the Games (interview with police officer, 2 August 2012).

Other tensions existed between security agencies. In an apparent act of collegiality, Westfield – Stratford's new shopping centre through which 80% of ticketholders would access the Olympic Park – allowed LOCOG to use their executive boardroom. Yet as one crowd security manager observed, each time decisions or discussions were made around issues of commercial impact, ‘the room was suddenly full of Armani suits’ (interview 9 September 2012). These expensively attired individuals imposed considerable impact on security planning. For example, on days predicted to have the heaviest flow of people and congestion, decisions were made to close Westfield shopping centre and reopen after the ‘crossfade’ (the convergence of those leaving the morning sessions and those entering for afternoon sessions). As the same crowd manager explained, ‘On every occasion LOCOG buckled under the pressure from Westfield to keep the shops open’ (interview 9 September 2012). Indeed, I visited the site on every such occasion Westfield was due to close, only to find it open. Business as usual. Whilst much has been made of the way mega-events have operated in the service of enhancing neoliberal corporate interests with the complicit assistance of public security infrastructures, coalitions of agencies and interests are not always harmonious.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Myriad spaces comprise the urban Olympic stage. Whilst some – such as the ‘sanitised’ Olympic Park replete with heavily fortified perimeters – are contrived and artificial, others remain inexorably wedded to their extant urban setting. In such environments regimes of regulation and social control do not constitute a de novo replacement of what existed previously. As Klauser (2013) argued, security and surveillance practices both shape and are shaped by contingencies of place. Given the heterogeneity of places that comprise the milieu of urban mega-events, these contingencies are manifold and varied. Moreover, the complexity and dynamic character of such spaces render unrealisable ambitions for unbroken territorial control, regimes of total proscription and prohibition. Instead, ‘problematic’ populations are not always completely repressed and simply removed but, often, remain in situ whilst their activities, mobilities and circulations are monitored, evaluated and, via multiple regimes of regulation, delineated (see Foucault 2007).

Nevertheless, spaces of Olympic security are heavily populated with multiplicities of actors, agencies and organisations. Crime control and counter-terrorist agencies converge in the same locations. With them come multiple and diverse organisational and coercive ambitions that, when taken together, combine into uneasy coalitions of control. Thus, common to security practice more generally, Olympic security is riddled with inherent tensions. For example, tensions exist between festivity and flow: the prosecution of fare dodging, a bête noir of London's transport providers, was totally relaxed in order to maximise the passage of people across the city. Elsewhere, responses to suspected terrorist incidents revealed tensions between desires for evacuation and ambitions for maintaining the flow and circulation of spectators.

Diverse agencies and organisations combine in edifices of uneasy co-operation. The scale of such assemblages does not automatically translate into a commensurate increase in potency. Yet, to a large extent, diverse agencies remain heterogeneous within these larger coalitions of security practice. As Foucault (2008, 42) recognised in his critique of dialectical logic during later work on biopolitical power strategies:

[do] not stress resolution in a unity. The function of strategic logic is to establish the possible connections between the disparate terms which remain disparate. The logic of strategy is the logic of connections between the heterogeneous and not the logic of the homogenization of the contradictory.

Whilst homogenising tendencies and attempts to co-ordinate the activities and ambitions of social control exist, security ensembles, even those of an aggrandised Olympian scale, are necessarily diverse.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Much of this research was undertaken on the EPSRC funded project EP/H02302X/1 Detecting Terrorist Activities: Shades of Grey. The author would like to thank the EPSRC for its support. The author would also like to thank the two anonymous referees for their constructive feedback.

Note
  1. 1

    Counter-terrorism, disarming of explosive devices, co-ordination between the military and police, and the re-establishment of transport networks after a terrorist incident were the central themes of one such test event observed by the author in October 2011.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Conceptualising urban security
  5. Methodology
  6. Security aims
  7. Insecurities and mutual mistrust
  8. Kafka's Castle and the Olympic edifice
  9. Mind the gap
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References
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