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Olympics in Boston would require unprecedented security

Police patrolled an Olympic village ahead of the Games in Sochi in 2014. Hosting the Olympics in Boston would require an unprecedented effort, experts said.Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics in an age of terrorism would require a security effort unprecedented in Boston’s history, requiring the efforts of tens of thousands of police officers, soldiers, spies, and private security firms.

Some of the city’s neighborhoods would be transformed into something approaching armed camps with security personnel carrying automatic weapons — and possibly even anti-aircraft batteries, according to security specialists familiar with security precautions at recent Olympic games in London and Sochi, Russia.

While Boston has successfully hosted its share of high-profile events in the past — including the 2004 Democratic National Convention — it hasn’t had to organize anything of this magnitude, said Representative William Keating, the Bourne Democrat and member of the Homeland Security Committee.


“The scope of the Olympics brings it entirely to a new level,” Keating, who was part of a US delegation that assessed security at the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year, said in an interview. “The security will have to be extraordinary.”

And extraordinarily costly — although precise estimates are difficult to come by.

When preparations began for the last summer Olympics, held in London in 2012, officials estimated security would cost $361 million. In the end, the price tag came in at more than four times that, or $1.6 billion.

And when the London opening ceremonies began, there were barely enough guards and other personnel available to protect the athletes and screen millions of spectators. British soldiers were summoned to duty to help.

The demands in Boston are unknown, nearly a decade before the event. But the security costs would likely be paid for with federal tax dollars.

“We don’t know what the threat will be years from now, and we don’t know what the technology will be like nine or 10 years from now that may make it easier,” said Juliette Kayyem, a former federal and state homeland security official who is now advising the Boston bid team on security matters.


But she said planning is already underway and that officials envision three different tiers of government security.

There would be the role of state and local agencies like the Boston Police, Massport, the National Guard, and university security forces. The next layer would be comprised of federal agencies, such as the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Transportation Security Administration and the US Coast Guard. Finally, international intelligence and security personnel would be required to assess potential threats and coordinate arrangements for the Olympic teams from individual countries.

The terrorist shootings in France this week brought yet another reminder of the threats in today’s society. Those events follow other tragedies, including the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and a history of security disasters at past Olympics.

Eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 games in Munich, Germany. In 1992, Basque separatists threatened to attack the games in Barcelona but failed to succeed, while a right-wing domestic terrorist set off a pipe bomb at the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, killing one and injuring 11 others.

The enhanced focus on security was underscored by the so-called “steel ring” that the Russians placed around last year’s Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, which was within driving distance of several centers of Islamic militancy in the Caucasus region of Central Asia.


In the wake of the Sochi games, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service credited the help of intelligence agencies in the United States, Austria, France, Germany, and the Republic of Georgia in helping to thwart terrorists attacks aimed at the Olympics.

Security preparation have long dogged the games. Failure to screen employees working at the Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1984 enable convicted felons to hold security posts — without any major incidents. The verdict following the Atlantic Games in 1996 — where a bombing killed two — was that public safety preparations were wholly inadequate.

When former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah, the 9/11 attacks that took place just four months earlier loomed large.

“Among the steps we took were double-fencing, cameras, motion detectors, bio-hazard detectors, food testing, mail testing, and screening people and goods twice before letting them in, and an inner, even more secure location that only the athletes could access,” Romney recalled in his 2004 book “Turnaround,” which detailed his experience overseeing the 2002 games.

Ultimately the federal government spent an estimated $1.5 billion for security in Salt Lake City.

Boston also would be seeking federal help, according to several officials.

The US Department of Homeland Security would be expected to designate the Olympics a National Special Security Event, which would place the US Secret Service in charge of security and also prompt Congress to authorize federal funds.


“It is an international event and Boston would have enormous federal resources for security for the event,” Keating predicted. “And international support in terms of security as well.”

Kayyem said officials are closely studying the London experience.

The 2012 games ultimately had a total of 128 venues that required more than 1,200 security cameras and 20,000 security personnel to screen more than 15 million people, according to Andrew Amery, who served as head of security for the London Organizing Committee.

The dragnet also had to be coordinated with a total of 55 separate law enforcement agencies from Britain and abroad, Amery said in a final report.

Security preparations included establishing a dedicated intelligence center, while new facilities built for the competitions were constructed with security in mind.

A key decision if the games are to be held in Boston will be how much of the security umbrella to out-source to private firms.

Late last year an Israeli security firm, ISDS, was awarded a $2.2 billion contract to coordinate security at the Summer Olympics scheduled for next summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a venue that is seen as particularly challenging due to high levels of crime and drug trafficking.

But such private sector help also requires additional oversight. For example, the British company that helped manage security for the 2012 games failed to properly estimate the number of personnel needed. At one point Olympic organizers withheld payments to the firm, G4S, after it said it would be unable to meet its commitment to provide 10,400 security guards. In the end, more than double that number were actually needed.


“Security can’t be delegated and it can’t be ignored,” Kayyem said of the London experience. “It is a huge preparedness undertaking. Security and preparedness planning has to begin today.”

Keating, however, believes that if the Russians were able to secure Sochi that Boston is more than prepared to take on the task of securing the 2024 games, especially in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

“People should be mindful how resilient our city was after the Marathon, which is an international event,” he said. “Boston is ahead of the curve in cooperation with federal agencies.”

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender.