With weeks to go before the start of this summer’s London Olympics, a sense of foreboding has descended on many of the people who, like me, live and work in Newham in east London, one of the poorest and most ethnically diverse parts of the capital. This anxiety, shared even by those who are enthusiastic about the spectacle of the Games, has been raised by the stories over the last six months about snipers in helicopters, missile launchers on tower blocks and RAF fighters in the skies during the Olympics and repeated predictions that it may be almost impossible to leave the borough during peak periods. People speak of feeling trapped by the arrival of an event that seems more like an invading army of occupation than a welcome visitor.
Welcome to the Security Games. This summer sees the largest peacetime military and security operation since 1945, with a budget that has soared to around £1 billion. Since 2010, the number of security personnel required by Olympic organisers has risen sharply to an overall estimated 23700 on the busiest days, more than double the original predictions. As well as up to 12000 police from forces across the country, the Ministry of Defence has provided more troops deployed (in uniform) to work during the Games than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. More CCTV has been installed in a part of London already awash with cameras and around £80 million has been spent on the construction of an an 11-mile long 5000-volt electric fence around the Olympic zone. One of the chief beneficiaries of the huge level of spending is the global private security corporation G4S, which has seen enormous expansion of its contract for providing security guards, from £86 million in December 2010 to £284 million in December 2011. The reality is that, like everything else to do with the Olympics, costs remain obscured by a lack of transparency and may be far higher.
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