The drafting of troops to meet a civilian security shortfall at London's Games will provide welcome reassurance to spectators.
Failure of security firm G4S is good news for the London Olympics
One can't help but wonder if the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games will look a bit like a military occupation now that thousands of troops have been drafted in to fill a major security vacuum created by a private-sector recruitment blunder.
When it emerged that G4S, the firm in charge of security, failed to meet its recruitment quota, which had been increased from 2,000 to 10,400 guards due to concerns about vulnerability to terrorist attacks, the government was forced to take drastic action.
The decision was taken to deploy 3,500 soldiers, many of whom have just returned from Afghanistan, and hundreds of extra police officers to search and screen spectators at the Olympic Park. They will also be responsible for checking vehicles, queue management and guarding the perimeters. Officials have not ruled out deploying further troops should it be necessary.
The shortfall became a considerable source of embarrassment for the British Home Office when it emerged that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Britain's police watchdog, had warned 10 months ago that the international security giant could have difficulty fulfilling its contractual obligations.
Concerns over G4S's performance intensified when The Sunday Times revealed that an internal corporate report, which was compiled for the firm by the former Metropolitan Police detective Peter Bleksley, stated that some staff lacked even "the most basic security knowledge" and that "shambolic and dangerous" practices "could eventually prove catastrophic for G4S". The security consultant reported that during his investigation he had seen the firm's guards sleeping on duty at Wimbledon last year.
Officials with knowledge of Olympic planning who asked not to be identified said that some recruits had been unemployed for months or years, The Sydney Morning Herald reported, adding that among those who have completed their training and been assigned to event sites, dropout rates have been as high as 50 per cent. Recruits are paid around the UK minimum wage level.
The Daily Mail reported that recruits for Britain's biggest peacetime security operation repeatedly failed to spot fake bombs during X-ray training, and cleared "test spectators" through security without spotting hidden weapons.
A whistleblower involved in security training for G4S told Sky News: "I can see so many security loopholes for this event ... there is a very slack approach. The training is completely insufficient."
G4S, which has a £284 million (Dh1.62 billion) contract to provide guards for the Games, faces a loss of between £35m and £50m, mainly because it will be forced to reimburse the government for the cost of the troops. G4S has also lost £650 million in market value since acknowledging it could not meet its contractual obligations, a failure it conceded was a "humiliating shambles".
The firm could also face considerable damage to its reputation and its lucrative relationship with Britain's public sector.
But is this recruitment failure really the security nightmare it appears to be ... or was it just a slow news week? The lacklustre performance of many of those already recruited - which can be at least partly attributed to hastily organised training, for which the government bears as much responsibility as G4S - indicates that the quality of security at the event would be woefully inadequate even if the firm had succeeded in meeting its quota.
If anything, G4S's failure is a positive outcome for the Games.
The drafting in of troops will substantially reinforce the security apparatus and will provide welcome reassurance to spectators, some of whom will have the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on their minds as they queue for events. The bombings occurred, you may recall, the day after the city won the right to stage the Games.