Amid ballooning security costs for the Pan Am Games, a group of law enforcement agencies are already working behind the scenes gathering intelligence and monitoring for any threats that could target the biggest sporting event to hit Hamilton in years.

And while that part of the security apparatus is invisible to the public, fans heading to the games here should expect a very visible security presence that will include a tight cordon around the stadium with metal detectors and the likelihood of video surveillance.

The games will be a huge undertaking for southern Ontario, with Hamilton hosting soccer – one of Pan Am's most popular sports. In past games, soccer has grabbed about 30 per cent of the game’s spectators, says police superintendent Dan Kinsella, the city’s Pan Am security lead. “Traditionally, it has a pretty huge fan base,” he said.

'You’re dealing with a very covert world of people.'- Henri Berube, former Peel Regional Police officer

With all those fans coming into the city comes security headaches – especially in a place where the stadium looms in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. While Kinsella stresses security planning is still in the planning stages, Hamilton police is part of a team that is “intelligence monitoring” to search for threats, he says. As it stands, there isn’t anything to be alarmed about. “There’s nothing right now occurring which would indicate we’re facing a threat down the road,” he said.

Ontario Provincial Police are also “monitoring channels” for any dangers, says acting OPP Sgt. Chrystal Jones. “We’ve been continually assessing the threat level of the games,” Jones told CBC Hamilton. She’s also quick to add that right now, any “threat levels are low.”

The OPP is heading up the “integrated security unit” – a collection of police services who will oversee security for the games province-wide alongside contracted guards. But when it comes to pre-games intelligence monitoring, these organizations are (perhaps somewhat predictably) shy to share details about who exactly is involved and where they’re listening in.

Is Canada's version of the NSA watching?

Former Peel Regional Police officer Henri Berube says it’s likely that the little-known Communications Security Establishment Canada (or CSE) is involved in monitoring for the games. But if they are, they aren’t telling.

“CSE does not comment on operations,” spokesperson Lauri Sullivan told CBC Hamilton in an email. “CSE is a foreign signals intelligence and cyber defence agency that serves to protect Canada and Canadians, both at home and around the world.”

Sullivan would say little else, except that “CSE is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians or anyone in Canada, and we fully respect the law.” The CSE is an ultra-secret version of the NSA in the U.S., Berube says, and only reports back to the Canadian government. “They’re probably even more secretive than CSIS,” he said. “You’re dealing with a very covert world of people.”

“You’re using very intelligent people with lots of experience to monitor different information.”

Prep work for the games has been ongoing for years. Kinsella visited the 2011 Pan Am games in Guadalajara to work for three weeks to learn how they prepped for an influx of athletes and spectators. Considering Mexico was (and is) embroiled in a drug war, it gave Kinsella a different perspective on how security for an event like that is organized.

“It gave me that experience firsthand,” he said. “You want to create an environment where security is there, but not overt.”

Expect metal detectors, searches, cameras

But security measures will be noticeable around the Pan Am stadium come 2015. Police will oversee a private security team in a cordon around the stadium, and teams who will operate metal detectors and searches heading into the building. “We’re also exploring CCTV cameras around the stadium,” Kinsella said. “If we get any intel that says extended technology may be needed, we’ll look into it.”

Even a year away, the price of security is driving costs up for the game’s organizers. The most recent security price tag estimate is $239 million — which is $33 million more than the last estimate, and more than double the original budget estimate.

Hamilton taxpayers are spared the brunt of those costs at the municipal level, but end up paying for them in the long run. Local police will be out in full force for the duration of the games, and may have to cancel annual leave for that time while bolstering paid duty shifts to keep enough cops around the games and in the rest of the city, Kinsella says.

Those costs are then referred to the Ministry of Community Safety, which reimburses the municipality.

“We believe we’ll be able to provide appropriate security at the stadium while keeping business going as usual in the city.”