Friday, February 7, 2014

Securing the Olympics

When I was a boy, terrorists struck the Summer Olympics in Munich. Eleven members of the Israeli team and a German police officer were killed.

That event sent shock waves throughout the world, largely because it was unexpected. It took everyone by surprise.

But that was a different world, a world in which terrorist attacks didn't happen often.

It wasn't far removed from a time when airplane passengers didn't have to go through a series of security checks. They could simply walk onto their planes without their luggage or bodies being scanned for weapons or bombs. No one seems to have thought that a person might intend to seize control of a plane, maybe blow it out of the sky — at least, until people started hijacking planes.

Even then, no one seems to have imagined that a person might want to seize control of a plane with the specific intention of flying it into a building — at least, not until 19 terrorists did that very thing on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, America has been on alert at airports and on board airplanes. The Olympics came to Salt Lake City only a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and, with tens of thousands of participants and spectators visiting from other countries for two weeks, the world saw a model of security efficiency. Two other Winter Olympics — and three Summer Olympics — have been held since Sept. 11, and each has avoided a security catastrophe.

Americans, I have learned, tend to believe that, if they are acutely aware of something or diligent about something, the rest of the world is, too. Perhaps the last six Olympic Games have lulled Americans into a false sense of security, believing that each host country is just as serious about terrorism prevention as we are.

But that is a dangerous assumption to make in today's world.

And I am anxious about the Winter Olympics that officially get under way this weekend in Russia.

Kelly Whiteside wrote in USA Today this week that the appearance of tight security promotes a sense of comfort, but, as Caitlin Dewey and Max Fisher write in the Washington Post, reports of suicide bombers and online threats prompted a travel alert from the State Department. Doesn't sound to me like Sochi is very secure.

Most of the people with whom I have spoken in the last week or so agree with me — that a terrorist attack during the Olympics is likely.

I hope I'm wrong about that. I don't want to see any athlete or coach or spectator hurt or killed.

But if it happens, I am pretty sure I know what the reaction will be: Most people will be sad. Most probably will be angry. Most also probably will feel a sense of revulsion.

But few, if any, will be surprised.

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