Threats to the Olympic and Paralympic Games: general mobilisation!

From July 26th, 2024, to September 8th, 2024, the eyes of the world will be on France, host of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. A source of various security threats, the organizers, supported by the security industry, are getting ready to fight!

By Camille Léveillé

A worrisome terrorist threat

The threat that was in the minds of the internal security forces for more than a decade now: the rise of extremism. While the risk of attacks designed abroad, such as the one at the Bataclan in 2015, no longer seems to be the main threat, it must continue being monitored. « For a long time, we thought this could not happen anymore, » Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin emphasized recently. But, according to him, the departure of Western forces from the Middle East and West Africa allows terrorist groups to « reconstitute« .1 The endogenous threat remains, for the Minister, the main risk. More difficult for the intelligence services to detect, knife or vehicular attacks are still favored by radicalized people, particularly online. However, the risk of an attack using a weapon of war, such as a Kalashnikov, should not be ignored either. The latest attack in Brussels last October, which echoes the attack in Arras a few days earlier, bears witness to the deviousness of the terrorist threat in Europe. And for the Olympic Games, an event of such magnitude, with so many spectators and public figures, the effects of such an attack would be multiplied tenfold. Hence the need to anticipate and strengthen resources as much as possible to deal with such an elusive threat. Not to mention that 270 detainees for terrorism acts were released between 2020 and 2022. An additional risk to be considered less than a year before the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The threat will not be confined to the vicinity of the Olympic venues but will be spread throughout the country. « During Euro 2016, intelligence services and organizers feared terrorist attacks on sports venues. In the end, an attack did take place during the event, but not on a sports site: the attack in Magnanville, in which a police commander and his girlfriend were killed by a terrorist claiming to be a member of Daesh, » said Marc Hecker, director of research and promotion at Ifri and editor-in-chief of the journal Politique étrangère. While jihadist terrorist groups are well aware of the showcase that such a global event represents, they are not the only ones who would like to take advantage of this spotlight. In recent years, the services have thwarted several attacks by the ultra-right and now fear the actions of these small groups.

Online, activists regularly publish anti-Games manifestos. Denouncing the negative effects of the Games, including « the gentrification of cities, speculation, the development of surveillance software and security… « 2, the Saccage 2024 collective clearly encourages to hinder the smooth running of the event.

Violent extremism to monitor

« There are other types of security threats, which are more difficult to label, with mixtures of ideologies fueled by conspiracy theories. They have developed a lot during Covid, along with fake news andanti-establishment phenomena. While it is not presently classified as terrorism, it is a notion of violent extremism. People who subscribe to these theories have strong inclinations with potentially dangerous effects, » notes Marc Hecker. This ideology, which is intangible and difficult to detect, makes the work of the intelligence services particularly difficult. The attack during the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 saw the attacker’s motivation oscillating between several theories with a conspiracy, religion, and ideology mix.

Reputation risk and politico-diplomatic entanglements

For more than a month, all eyes will be on France. The damage to France’s reputation is a risk to which we must be particularly vigilant: « The probability of reputation risk is higher than that of the risk of attack. A lot of things can go off track in an organization. We cannot afford to make a mistake on this side, » says the researcher. The very tense geopolitical-diplomatic context must also be integrated into the equation. « Controversies have already begun to emerge, not in the jihad sphere but in the Islamist sphere which has openly criticized France’s position on banning head-covering by French sportswomen. UN bodies have also reacted. Other geopolitical issues arepart of a context that is complicated to manage. The topic of the possible participation of Russian athletes under a neutral flag is an example. Another example is the fact thata member of the Syrian Olympic Committee is accused of war crimes. How should France position itself on these sensitive subjects? » Marc Hecker asks.

The thorny human aspect

For several years, many observers have been sounding the alarm about the number of security forces that will have to be deployed at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. While the organizers are counting on the presence of 45,000 security forces, the needs of the private security sector amount to 20,000 people. Before the second and third waves of recruitment, the organizers had contracted 25% of their staffing needs for private security. With a sector that is struggling to attract, recruitment processes have been accelerated: 106 hours of training instead of 175 and character investigations that are supposed to go faster… This recruitment is certainly necessary, but it nevertheless raises questions about the quantitative and qualitative balance, particularly regarding the verification of profiles. While there is no doubt that the mobilization of the armed forces will be an inevitable recourse, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Thierry Burkhard, made a point last April of reminding us: « My real subject is to anticipate, while a certain number of things are likelyto happen almost at the last moment. »

Prepare for the worst

A 15,000-seat grandstand has just collapsed at La Défense Arena. The result: about ten dead, about forty severely injured, about fifty moderately wounded. This was the scenario of the « Arena 23 » crisis management exercise that took place last May. 300 workers from various services, including the fire brigade, the SAMU, the Red Cross, the Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and civil protection. The coordination and interoperability of the services were tested during this full-scale exercise. « It is essential for us to know how to work with our partners from the Paris Fire Brigade and the first aid associations to respect the chain of patient care, »3 says Thomas Loeb, head of the Hauts-de-Seine SAMU department. A rather peculiar crisis management exercise. For the first time, the coordination of services extended to the hospital staff, at the end of the care chain. The law enforcement forces were also able to take part in the exercise by starting the investigation in parallel with the health part. « We’ve seen some hiccups, but that’s normal, » said one of the participants, « These events are designed to help us learn from our mistakes. »4 To make sure they would be ready on D-Day, training sessions are multiplying. Last May, in Fontainebleau, the first responders had to practice reacting in the event of a CBRN bomb explosion in the equestrian stadium. A likely scenario… The exercise organized in a hospital in Metz also provided an opportunity to train around a bacteriological risk scenario. The training organized at the Matmut stadium in Bordeaux demonstrated the effectiveness of the NOVI plan (the rescue of many victims) and the interest of setting up an advanced medical post within the stadium.

Surrounded/ Focus on counter-UAV systems warfare

While in 2015 more than 60 UAV system flew over sensitive sites in the capital, such as the United States Embassy, the Elysée Palace and the Eiffel Tower, these devices are increasingly worrying the security forces. In 2022, Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior, made UAV systems « the main terrorist threat of today and tomorrow ».5 He even described the scenario of « a UAV systems loaded with explosives going over a crowd, over an exposed team, over an opening ceremony like at the Olympic for example« . The sky of France will therefore be under high surveillance during the sporting event. With an hourly surveillance volume of up to 4 000 hours, the forces of Commander Arnaud Bourguignon, Chief of Staff of the Air Defense and Air Operations Command, will be vigilant. A threat considered multifaceted, and which concerns more than 2.5 million pieces of equipment. « There are UAV systems that have been hijacked, used to frighten or carry a load that can harm people. There are UAV systems that will simply film without being allowed to do so, UAV systems that we don’t control anymore. Even a UAV systems in the hands of a child can pose risks: if it flies over an unauthorized area, for example a stadium during a major sporting event, it can cause fear among the crowd, and can cause injuries, »6 explains Thierry Bon, head of anti-UAV systems solutions at Thales. The French flagship has acquired a new detection and neutralization system, Parade, which was tested for the first time at the Rugby World Cup. Neutralizing UAV systems, micro and mini UAV systems, ranging from 100 grams to 25 kilos, the device can spot a suspicious UAV systems up to 5 kilometers and 360°. It is equipped with radar, direction-finding systems for frequency interception, target visualization cameras and a neutralization jammer.

The French gendarmes and soldiers were able to train at the home of one of their partners during the football World Cup hosted by Qatar last year. The risk of ill-intentioned UAV systems flying over stadiums in the open air was particularly feared. The French gendarmes were then called in to support the protection of the stadiums, the training grounds, the hotels but also the final. While there were no events involving UAV systems, the instructions at the World Cup in Qatar were clear: neutralize the threat. For August 2024, the instructions are the same.

The essential technology for the smooth running of the Olympic Games?

The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are a veritable laboratory for innovation and an opportunity to have heated ethical debates on the use of certain new technologies in the hemicycle. Finally, cameras will be deployed to scrutinize the surroundings of future competition venues, such as the Stade de France or the Eiffel Tower, but also the public transport, detect crowd movements or suspicious behavior and report them. Thanks to this installation and the algorithm, only 8 agents are needed to monitor 2,500 cameras. Another innovation made possible by artificial intelligence is the installation of intelligent body scanners around sports venues with more than 300 people. The MM-Imager, developed by the company MC2 technologie, detects remotely prohibited objects. Many other technologies will be deployed throughout the Games, some of which could serve as a legacy of the Games, while others, for reasons of potential infringements of fundamental rights and freedoms, are not necessarily intended to be permanent.






6 Ibid