A University of Calgary expert in modern terrorism says small disruptions by domestic groups are the most likely security threat to the upcoming 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but organizational issues are also a critical concern.
Vancouver is set to capture the world's attention for 16 days when the Olympic Winter Games begin later this month. But with that global spotlight comes some of the world's biggest problems and a heightened risk of terrorist attacks, according to Michael Zekulin, a PhD candidate researching contemporary terrorism in the U of C's political science department.
"In today's world, the Olympic Games represent a very real target for terrorism. It provides groups with the potential for large casualties and immediate global attention," said Zekulin.
'The likelihood of a sophisticated, large-scale attack carried out by an international group like al-Qaeda is unlikely,' —Michael Zekulin, University of Calgary
"While the likelihood of a sophisticated, large-scale attack carried out by an international group like al-Qaeda is unlikely, disruption to the Games by domestic groups remains a possibility," he said in a statement released on Tuesday morning.
Anti-Olympic protesters have already been a thorn in the side of Olympic torch relay organizers, and have promised to disrupt the Games when they open in Vancouver on Feb 12.
"Organizers trying to prevent … attacks are faced with a logistical nightmare including countless potential targets, thousands of people involved and limited resources," said Zekulin.
Olympic organizers also face challenges trying to secure not only the event sites located in Vancouver and Whistler, but also 125 kilometres of the Sea-to-Sky Highway connecting the two areas.
The $1-billion security plan for the Games will also be challenged by organizational and co-ordination issues because of the large number of agencies coming together for the 16-day event.
The massive effort led by the RCMP involves the Canadian military, several local police forces, border security forces, as well as international support from countries like the U.S. and military partnerships like NORAD.
"There's a real potential that should serious issues present themselves, people and agencies may start acting on their own instead of in a co-ordinated fashion," said Zekulin.
While volunteers traditionally add to the security of the Games by providing ears and eyes on the ground, Vancouver organizers might face challenges if some of those 25,000 volunteer stop showing up for their shifts, as has been the case in previous Games, he said.
Cameras aimed at protesters, not terrorists
The nearly 1,000 surveillance cameras in place for the Winter Olympics won't do much to deter a terrorist attack and are really just useful for zeroing in on protesters and hooligans, says Andre Gerolymatos, a Simon Fraser University history professor with an interest in security issues.
"They will be useful in terms of catching potential troublemakers, vandals, people selling dope on the street, but in terms of terrorists, in a way they are playing into their hands — the terrorist will simply look into the camera and blow himself up," said Gerolymatos.
He said cameras are overrated because they can only record events, and it would be better to have more police and soldiers on the streets where they could react to trouble, Gerolymatos told CBC News.