Lockdown London: how the Olympics will turn London into (more of) a police state

In the Guardian, Stephen Graham describes the militarized security that will transform the UK capital into "Lockdown London" for the Olympics. London is set to meet and exceed Beijing for civil liberties violations, violent suppression of dissent, and overwhelming surveillance during the games, from the rule that says you're not allowed to display anti-Olympics posters in your own home to the sniper-toting helicopters hovering over the town. "Security" trade magazines are buoyant about the enormous sums of money the industry stands to take out of "austere" Britain's tax-coffers to buy razor-wire, drones, and water cannons.

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.

During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. They also allow Olympic security personnel to deal forcibly with the display of any commercial material that is deemed to challenge the complete management of London as a "clean city" to be branded for the global TV audience wholly by prime corporate sponsors (including McDonald's, Visa and Dow Chemical).

And on top of it all, some of London's public roads will be turned into "priority" roads that are only open to corporate sponsors' vehicles -- off-limits even to the athletes competing in the games (and ambulances).

Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London

(Image: Policeman with his balaclava over his face, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bagelmouse's photostream)

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  1. I presume “armed” means “armed with firearms”. It’d be pretty pointless if they were “armed with lettuces”.
    Why the hell are we letting the Merkins wander round with weapons when our own police don’t normally get them.This sort of thing is exactly what turns normal people into “radical terrorists”.We probably don’t have 1000 firearms across the whole London police force right now.

    1. I presume “armed” means “armed with firearms”. It’d be pretty pointless if they were “armed with lettuces”.

      I don’t know, I think there’s quite a few Englishmen who are quite afraid of a fresh vegetable. “Better boil it for a couple hours, mate. Just to make sure it’s dead.”

      1. That cracks me up and I was laughing anyway ‘cos I think they have all gone mad and are living some sort of dystopian fantasy. Logic, reason and rationality seem to be nowhere in sight. Mad not evil?

    2.  > Why the hell are we letting the Merkins wander round with weapons when our own police don’t normally get them.

      That’s par for the course when you invite high profile septics, they bring their own security.  They must be under the impression that some people don’t like them..

  2. Athletes are allowed to use the Olympic route network:

    http://www.london2012.com/orn/who-will-use-the-orn-and-prn.php

    But it’s true that non-emergency ambulances are going to be stuck in the slow lanes so that Coca-cola execs can speed past.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103315/Patients-lives-risk-Olympics-ambulances-banned-using-fast-lane-reserved-VIPs.html

    I’m hoping for guerrilla-style roadblocks, where any passengers wearing suits are forced out of their cars and given a map to the nearest tube (which is likely to be quicker in any case).

      1. Most of us up here in the far north are absolutely delighted to be here, and wouldn’t go anywhere near London however much you paid us. We have wide open spaces, quiet roads, low crime levels, minimal pollution, glorious scenery, friendly neighbours, teenagers who are simply naughty rather than looting rioters, and we love it here. Sure, we don’t have the big megastores, and our hospitals often need an upgrade; but I’m happy to be 25 miles from the nearest branch of Starbucks, and I remind myself not to complain too much when I’m held up on the road by a flock of sheep.

        I realise it’s probably not quite so pleasant for those living in northern cities, rather than rural areas like mine, but even they are generally happier than those down south.

        I guess I’d better brace myself for the backlash now…

        1.  Nope, I’m with you. My Northern city is far from being paradise, but I put up with it gladly, limited job opportunities and all, so as not to have to live in London.  Amazing place to visit; lousy dump to live in.

          1.  I lived in London for a bit, but the only significant difference between London and other major UK cities in my eyes is the diversity – and that’s the one thing I liked about it.

        2. You don’t have to be so drastic as to move to the north if you don’t like London, you could go somewhere nice, like the south ;)

          I think you sum it up better toward the end – it’s more about rural/urban than north/south.

          Cities just aren’t nice places, unless you have a fetish for concrete and traffic.

          1. you could go somewhere nice, like the south ;)

            Aww, it’s so cute you can make yourself believe that. Oo kud eatums up, yezz.

            I spent some years in London too, and – like you – was also seduced by the diversity. But one finds one can live far outside the capital without missing it and its overfull-of-itself Metropolitan Police Force.

            The north-south divide is a wonderful thing in England. It’s parochialism’s too precious to waste on the rest of the world, they won’t get it. :)

          2.  Not all cities are bad. Our nearest city, Carlisle, is a perfectly pleasant place without all the bad points of larger conurbations further south. The worst I can say about it is, it’s kinda dull.

            Some cities are fabulous places. I grew up and spent most of my life in Edinburgh, which was always a great place to live, and has in recent years developed into a thriving, cosmopolitan, exciting, cultural centre, with a multitude of festivals covering all the arts, music, drama, science, film, literature. It’s still relatively safe to walk home alone at night. Even the graffiti is classy, and the weather has improved so much since my childhood that pavement cafés are commonplace nowadays. It feels like a true European city now, unlike some places I’ve visited south of the border.

            To me, it’s not about rural/urban, I’m afraid. I’d much rather live in Edinburgh – or even Carlisle! – than in a village somewhere south of London.

          3. Cities just aren’t nice places, unless you have a fetish for concrete and traffic.

            British cities maybe. :P

        3. I fucking love it up North and stay up there every opportunity I can. If I didn’t love it just as much down here in soft-southern Wiltshire I’d probably emigrate oop thar! Yorkshire’s particularly lush, but I do have a bit of a soft-spot for “bleak”.

  3. Can´t wait to go visit London for the Olympics this year … NOT.

    Sorry guys, you´ll have to pay for your totalitarian extravaganza without my tourist money.

    1. I saw Totalitarian Extravaganza open for Minor Threat back in the late 80s. Good show.

    1. Oh dear. You’re right. That means that the rest of us will have to wall up our cities to keep out the refugees fleeing a totalitarianised London. Which might be good – a construction boom. Heyyy – something positive …

  4. It’s such a terrible article that it’s hard to take any of it seriously — it’s not possible to disentangle the fact (if any) from the obvious fiction. £11 billion on the Olympics will “add hugely” to the UK national debt of around £1 trillion? Crossrail (recently delayed by a year from 2017 to 2018) has been “speeded up for the Games” even though they are, of course, not using it? Greece’s £10 billion Olympic spend was a “major contributor” to its £350 billion debt crisis?

    1. Yup, I didn’t bother reading past the Crossrail point. Maybe I’ll miss out on something illuminating from the rest of the article, but there’s so much to read in the world and only so much time, you have to filter somehow.

    2. > It’s such a terrible article that it’s hard to take any of it seriously

      It’s the guardian, are you surprised?

      1. “It’s the guardian, are you surprised?”

        Please name, and explain with specific examples, any other newspaper that overall represents significantly superior writing and journalism. 

    3. It seems to me that increasing the national debt by about 1% for just a few weeks of sports is indeed a huge increase, considering the rest of the debt took a very long while to accumulate.

      If you had a $500K mortgage and decided to buy a $5,000 plasma TV on credit, I would still think it’s a dangerously large increase of your debt, even though it’s only 1% of the total.

        1. More accurately: forcing your family to eat nothing but Tesco value baked beans whilst you dine out every night with your chums, then complaining that they look “a little glum” about your dining habits and hiring a helicopter full of snipers to hover over your street in case any of your family get ideas above their station.

          …Whilst renting a plasma tv for a month, for £5k.

  5. What a nice world it would be if they allowed and encouraged peaceful protests, in order to show that civilization means being tolerant of differences of opinion.  

  6. The funny thing is, if some kind of disaster occurred due a lack of security, the writer of this article and a lot of the bandwagoners in this comment thread would slam the government for not doing enough to protect the Games.

    EDIT: oh, and the notion that this will be kept around after the Games is even more laughable. Given the state of our police force, the cuts, the dismantling of various parts of our Armed Forces . . . yes, they’re going to stick around and leave a bloody aircraft carrier in the Thames. Or 10,000+ *extra* officers in the London area.

    That said, London could do with the extra police force.

    1. Some kind of disaster? Like the head of European marketing for McDonalds missing the first round of the pole vault competition because he was stuck in traffic?  Or a member of the IOC being confronted with a poster that reminded them that there are people who don’t think that 3 weeks of mildly entertaining television programming is really worth £10B.  

    2.  Not to simply re-iterate the article but it’s not the obvious OTT stuff that would remain.
      ” Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests.”

      ” In Athens, the $300m “super-panopticon” CCTV and information system built for the Games following intense US pressure remained after the event, along with the disused sports facilities. ”

       + the dismantling of any of the state run apparatus as part of ‘austerity measures’ is only so it can be replaced with private contracts. 

      It’s a global phenomenon, and painfully obvious.

    3. You’re wrong.

      People wouldn’t claim that, the Daily Mail would claim it and I’m guessing you’d read it.

      Even with this horrifically over the top approach, someone could still easily blow something up – they can’t totally protect London from all danger; instead they’re likely to intimidate and inconvenience the whole city for the sake of an invisible and statistically insignificant threat.

      For crying out loud, it’s track and field, not a UN summit.

      Also, the writer isn’t suggesting that they’d leave an aircraft carrier or 10,000+ extra police there (don’t be silly) they’re quite obviously referring to policy and general security processes that will be put in place.

      And don’t kid yourself into thinking that austerity will prevent the government from stepping on the public, especially as it won’t even cost them anything.

    4. if some kind of disaster occurred due a lack of security, the writer of this article and a lot of the bandwagoners in this comment thread would slam the government for not doing enough to protect the Games

      You appear unfamiliar with your bandwaggoners (nice use of neutral terminology there btw – keep it up). You have this exactly backwards. It’s only if nothing bad happens, and if it’s provably due to this expensive, invasive, civilisation-deadening effort, that you’ll find a lot of pissed-off people here.

      So – as such lack of excitement would be neither attributable nor newsworthy – you won’t see any such government-slammery here.

    5. The funny thing is, if some kind of disaster occurred due a lack of security, the writer of this article and a lot of the bandwagoners in this comment thread would slam the government for not doing enough to protect the Games.

      Keep telling yourself whatever it takes to make you feel special.

  7. I think it’s time to boycott everything vaguely related to the Olympics. Including London, obviously.

    1. I have to work here but if I wasn’t working I’d consider it my patriotic duty as a God-fearing Englishman and Londoner as soon as the festivities start to fuck off to Paris on the first available train and stay there till it was all over.

  8. Um, who is providing this ‘aircraft carrier’? Not the Royal Navy; it has a helicopter carrier, HMS Illustrious, that *used* to be an aircraft carrier before we got rid of all our carrier-based fighter aircraft. I’ve heard suggestions that HMS Ocean – another helicopter carrier – might be hanging around the Thames but why go to the expense of having a ship to park helicopters on when there are plenty of other places near or in London you could put them?

    1. Just speculating as an American with experience with the US military, but I’d guess it’s so the Royal Navy can get in on the act, and get part of the money for the security deployment – after all, carriers aren’t cheap to operate, and if you can get three weeks of operations paid for by someone else, the money is freed up for other things…

    2. a couple of month earlier The Guardian wrote about “helicopter carrier HMS Ocean”. 

      I blame inflation for swelling helicopter to aircraft…

        1. not even the Royal Navy calls Ocean a carrier :)

          but yes, in principal you’re right: Helicopters ARE aircrafts – though if I hear aircraft carrier I automagically think of “supercarriers” like the Enterprise

  9. I don’t know what, if any, part of the article to believe since I’m one of those so-called Merkins, but damn.  If any of that is actually true it would seem like the UK and US are neck and neck when it comes to security derp and stripping away civil liberties.

    Has it occurred to either of our respective governments that it is precisely this sort of blatant hostility and disregard for the populace that leads to insurrection and “domestic terrorism”?

    1. Pfft.  Nah.  The powers that be would have to recognize and acknowledge their outsized  hubris in order to obtain that level of situational awareness. 

  10. What exactly is the point of having an Olympics in your city?  I remember visiting Athens just a few months after the Olympics there and the only legacy left seemed to be a horrendous mess and an array of ugly buildings that will NEVER be used again except sporadically. 

    Oh, and a humongous debt that is, no doubt, feeding into Greece’s current financial crisis.

    1.  “What exactly is the point of having an Olympics in your city?”

      Legacy and ego.

      The ‘official’ standpoint is that it will net the country a profit.  But that’s a claim born from either sheer stupidity or lies – mixed in with a bit of that ego we covered before.

    2. That’s pretty much what happened with the Vancouver Olympics.

      The condos in Athlete’s Village are virutally empty, the company responsible for construction went bankrupt, and the city will be paying off the debt for years.

      Good thing all the corporate sponsors got their profits. That’s all the Olympics has become, a travelling freak show for extracting money from those foolish enough to host it.

    3. I remember the “battle” for the 2016 games, between Chicago and Rio. A battle in which the residents of Chicago were firmly supporting Rio’s bid for the games, that is.

      For some countries, hosting the games is a way to show that they’ve arrived. 
      I suspect that desire lasts for only one Olympiad.

  11. It’s such a cliche, but how can those that genuinely believe this is to do with terrorism not stop and think, “the terrorists have won”.

    I wish I still lived in London just so I could put up an anti-Olympics Poster. I’d enjoy a trip to the European Court of Human Rights.

  12. It’s all fun and games until the Canadian javelin team goes on a thrill kill spree.

      1. Not for much longer I hear. The concept of an apology will be treatable as IP and no Canadian will henceforth be allowed to apologise without severe penalty.

  13. My favourite part about the Olympic Games so far has been how we’ve been told, via some very nicely (sort of) designed posters  http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/london-2012/100-great-things-about-games/all , that the Olympic Games will re-invigorate local high streets in the area (poster #92). The same poster series also mentions the new shopping centre in Stratford (#5 & #6), which seems to be doing a fairly stellar job of turning the shopping areas in Stratford into nothing but a pedestrian thoroughfare to get to our new, improved Westfield Shopping Experience. To make matters worse, they seem to be installing some large sculpture-ish things to obscure Stratford as much as possible; visitors to Stratford will step out of the Tube Station and see two signs – one that points them to the Westfield Centre, the other towards the Olympic Park.

    I was initially pretty excited about the Olympics, because Stratford isn’t exactly the nicest part of London, and a few of us here had hoped that the area would be “prettied up a bit”, as it’s so close to the Olympic site. Instead, it appears that people are actually doing their very best to hide as much of Stratford as possible.

  14. Out of curiosity, I know high costs and propaganda are tradition, but how long has this sort of thing been part and parcel with the Olympics? I faintly remember one from a few decades ago, and the main results seemed to be lots of tourists and new sports facilities, not security lockdown. But I was very little, and it would be nice to know what I didn’t see.

  15. Time to organize the 2012 British Not The Olympics Spectacular. Pick a city (Portsmouth?). Book some venues. Organize festivals. And fucking swamp the place with people. 

  16. I feel sorry for the people of London. You will be living under the same type of “occupation army” that is our country’s biggest export…..The War on Terror!!!…..unfortunately not all the “terrorists” are AQ….some come in corporate uniform and new apparently can carve up their kingdom anyway they see fit with your governments approval.

    This is one of the darkest days of liberty and freedom I have witnessed in many years. We are not far behind as each and every day our liberties come under attack and discarded in small pieces. To the people of London, I am with you in mind and spirit.

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