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Archive for May 9th, 2012

I filed this for the Sunday Express at the weekend:

SECURITY chiefs have asked a London council for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, was approached amid concerns about the security of the star-studded US Athletics team which will have its training base the inner-city borough.

The Sunday Express understands that although the Army and Scotland Yard will mount a huge security operation to guard “Fortress Olympic Park” in Stratford, including deploying surface-to-air missiles, the bigger headache is what might happen less than two miles away.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let the Olympics’ largest team, the Americans, use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from 11 days before the Games start on July 27 to August 15.

Although the centre will remain open to the public during that time, security will be handed over to the Americans who are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers with them, many armed.

The centre, which has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track, stands next to the gang-ridden Ocean estate in Stepney.

It is surrounded by high-rise tower blocks that will have perfect views of athletes such as star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner, and by several schools which will be closed for holidays.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic extremist groups, and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids.

High profile dignitaries are likely to visit the training base.

The park near stadium was also the scene of a mass fight between members of the English Defence League and local Muslim youths last summer.

Noisy protests about US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected around the stadium’s fences.

US intelligence officials are understood to have made several visits to the area, while council officers will share images from its main CCTV control room.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, Tower Hamlets council states: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security related challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.

“Initial assessments have highlighted security improvements which could be made to the site.”

It is not known which of the security services—the police, the Ministry of Defence, or even the FBI—approached Tower Hamlets Council, but Ms Cattermole declined the request.

However, one security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.

“The Americans are the obvious targets and they’re going to be training in what is a relatively exposed place.”

The MoD is currently staging a large security rehearsal, including the deployment of missiles above a residential block in Bow, east London.

It declined to comment on any US plans but it has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points, just as we do not discuss the detail of protective security measures.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

A council spokeswoman said: “”The USA track and field team have funded extensive improvements to the stadium, and will be providing a variety of community benefits including free coaching sessions and opportunities to watch the team training.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues.

“Understandably these issues are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate that these will impact on the local community.”

After the subs cut 200 words to squeeze the article into a smaller-than-expected space, it ran as this in print:

SECURITY chiefs worried about the safety of US athletes during the Olympics have asked for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, says she was approached but refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services, or even the FBI.

The Sunday Express understands that although a huge security operation is being mounted to guard Fortress Olympic Park in Stratford, the real headache could be how to prevent an attack on US team members who will be training two miles away in Mile End.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let them use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from July 27 to August 15.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, the council says: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.”

American security teams are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers to cover the Games, many of them armed.

The centre, which will remain open to the public, has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track where star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner will train, right next to the gang-blighted Ocean Estate in Stepney.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic group and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids. The US stay coincides with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

American athletes and citizens are obvious targets because of predominantly Muslim local anger over US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.”

The Ministry of Defence is staging a security rehearsal, including deploying missiles above a block of flats in Bow, east London. It has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points. The planning assumption is that the only police officers deployed with firearms will be members of the British police service.”

And the East London Advertiser has just run the following (clearly unsubbed) report under the headline, “Tower Hamlets Council denies reports snippers (sic) could be put on school roofs during Olympic Games” (I think they meant snipers, not hairdressers):

Reports that snippers could be placed on school roofs in Tower Hamlets to protect the US team during the Olympic Games have been denied by the council.

It comes after the Sunday Express quoted head of schools at Tower Hamlets council, Isobel Cattemole, as saying she had been approached but that she refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services.

Team US’s track and field athletes training at Mile End stadium, during this summer’s Games, has lead to speculation that there presence is more of a headache than the Olympic Park for security chief trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

A council spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Defence has confirmed there are no plans to use schools in Tower Hamlets for any purpose during Games time.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues relating to Mile End Stadium, understandably they are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate these will impact on the local community.

“Where possible we will ensure that external agencies engage with residents, and we will represent any concerns of our communities where we can.”

It has not been possible to get a comment from Ms Cattemole.

A MoD spokesman said they had already announced plans for using helicopters to carry snippers during the Games. “Any decision to use snippers on land, if it is happening, would be coordinated by police and American security services,” he said.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

Director of strategic of communication for the US team, Mark Jones, insisted: “We’re relying on local law enforcement agencies and the Olympic Committee for security.”

The US Embassy is London refused to comment.

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