Olympic Season: a season of extremes?

Olympic Season: a season of extremes?

In typically British fashion, residents at an East London tower block received notification- that their homes will be used as bases for surface-to-air-missiles to combat terrorist attack- via post last week.

I assume no-one from the Ministry of Defence, or the local Tower Hamlets Council had the guts to inform the residents -in person- perhaps fearing revolt.

Ten soldiers are meant to man these rockets at all times and they maybe aided by armed police protection.

Local authorities claimed they were approached only 3 days ago by the MoD and were left the impression that there was “little alternative but to do this”, according Channel 4’s reporter Simon Israel.

Perhaps the transmission of seemingly unquestionable dictates from central government remind us of the latent anti-democratic culture present in the UK governance.

It turns out it will not just be one tower block involved, but surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at 6 possible sites: on a clearing in Barn Hill, Epping Forest (near the M25); William Girling reservoir in Enfield; the Fred Wigg Tower block in Waltham Forest; one in the Oxleas Wood on Shooters Hill near Greenwich, as well as another in Blackheath, Tower Hamlets. These launch pads will be tested as part of 8-day military exercise, which will start today, code-named “Olympic Guardian”.

According to the General in charge of this military operation (and in charge of the coordination of the military during the Games) General Sir Nick Parker, the two biggest threats to London during the  Olympic Games are, first of all, a 9/11-type attack, and the second classified as a “low-slow”: the possibility of a single light aircraft being driven into a location.  The military exercise underway from today in London & Weymouth, will employ “systems” from RAF Typhoon fighter jets, to the Rapier Missile; to snipers on helicopters, to high-velocity missile point defence system; RAF ships and the 13,500 troops deployed for the Games; in order to allow the military to understand the logistics of shooting down enemy aircraft.

Some residents have already contacted their lawyers, and some are complaining through housing groups. The 117-home Fred Wigg Tower proposed as a launch pad, is council operated, but, in this case, one could ask, do council housing tenants even have the right to object to their building being used to defend the safety of other British Citizens?

If you live in state housing, does it not make you subject to local and central government decisions?

Lawyers looking to take the Ministry of Defence to court are looking into cases where residents successfully opposed the building of a satellite dishes for example.

Hypothetically, if these residents won and a terrorist attack was successfully executed, I’m sure many in the public, including residents in the prospective tower blocks would be up in arms (not literally in arms- but you never know) accusing the relevant authorities of not pre-empting an attack. After all, wasn’t this the chief accusation directed at security services after the 7/7 attacks on London Transport and across the pond, the same complaint was levelled against US authorities for the 9/11 attacks.

At the moment, I consider myself to be a lucky West Londoner, who won’t be going near the Olympic zone unless I need want to get some “atmosphere”. For me this military prep makes me think London at Olympic time will look like a warzone. Crammed public transport, military aircraft flying low 12,500 police (I don’t care what the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Chris Allison says, I believe lots of police will be armed) and 13,500 armed forces on the ground.

This story has even made it to the homepages of CNN and other international outlets.

Unfortunately, with increased economic and political tension in the Western World, whether it be foreign insurgents, native born ethnic minorities with a grudge, sectarian terrorists, neo-Nazis like the Norwegian Anders Breivik, or homegrown domestic crazies (like the man who threatened to blow himself up in Tottenham Court Road because he didn’t have his HGV license): I believe Westerners can no longer consider themselves to be living in a safe haven.

Cities make for terrible backdrops for armed conflict: densely populated, there is the potential for massive loss of life if rogue assailants (New York) get their way or if the population is divided along sectarian lines (Belfast, Beirut, Mogadishu).

No doubt there will be further developments on this story.

Londoners watch out.

Image of Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, Exercise Askari Thunder in Kenya, Africa by Defence Images UK Ministry of Defence.

Image under Creative Commons License.

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