Ask anyone who has been involved in the preparations for Olympic Games about the immensity of the challenge the endeavor represents -- especially since Sept. 11, 2001 -- and you will be served a seemingly endless list of sundries, from logistics to security.
Having been privy to and, for a short while, a participant in the security aspect of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, I had the opportunity to see some of the principal tasks that face today's organizers of global events.
In a so-called age of terrorism, it is no surprise -- albeit disheartening -- that security has become one of the main worries of Olympics organizers. From the Salt Lake City games in 2002, which turned the otherwise quiescent Mormon heartland into a virtual battlefield -- what with the anti-aircraft batteries girding the premises and the peremptory presence of soldiers and security officers -- to the games in Athens, where security was the remit of no less a power than NATO, the threat of violence, or more explicitly of a terrorist attack, was ever-present in the minds of officials.
Efforts have inherently been geared toward addressing those threats, based on likelier scenarios and potential perpetrators.
Athens continued this trend, with Islamic terrorist organizations as the main source of the perceived threat, followed by anti-globalization groups known for their violent predisposition. Certain flagged individuals were barred from entry into Greece, while others were closely monitored, with unprecedented cooperation from intelligence services around the world. Threat and risk assessments were produced and shared, while daily international security meetings were held.
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, however, promise to bring the organizers' sense of siege to a whole new, genre-defining level, and, judging by the preparations its domestic intelligence services and various governmental bureaus have made, no stone will be left unturned.
Already, a list of potential targets for monitoring by security officials has been drawn, which includes "enemies of the Games" as varied as Chinese Muslims, US Christian groups, human rights advocates, environmentalists, Tibetan independence supporters, critics of China's role in Darfur's genocide in the making -- in all, anyone, state-based to nongovernmental, that dares criticize Beijing.
Given the precedent set by previous Olympics, it can be expected that international cooperation on security matters will be no different this time, as intelligence services are responsible for the security of the athletes from their own countries. The attractiveness of closely cooperating with Beijing, given the cornucopia of promised riches that playing along with China implies, can only encourage this.
This, then, raises a very serious question, as in the lead-up to the games next summer Beijing will be increasing its collection of intelligence both domestically and abroad. Chinese foreign intelligence services -- and individuals in their pay -- will redouble their monitoring abroad, gathering information on groups and individuals, from Taiwanese to Tibetans to Falun Gong practitioners, as well as the various issue groups Beijing perceives as threatening to its "security."
The real dilemma, however, lies not in intelligence collection abroad, as this is a practice other countries -- even allies of China -- have long been used to. The US, Canada, Britain and other European countries have all stated that China is the main source of espionage, both economic and political, in their territories. Even if these activities become more frequent -- and they will -- countering Chinese espionage, though a daunting task, does not represent a departure for these countries' domestic spy agencies.
What will constitute a shift will be the requirement to cooperate with Beijing on intelligence matters. It is easy to imagine that, as the event approaches, Beijing's main weapon -- trade -- will focus on a new commodity, that of cooperation on security. Following this logic, countries that, for one reason or another, refuse to cooperate with China on that sector will be subjected to blackmail of the kind we have seen time and time again at the UN and other international institutions. Unfortunately, the lure of future trade with China, which Beijing will never decouple from the supposedly apolitical Olympic Games, means that most countries will choose cooperation over morality.
The consequences of this decision will be that intelligence services the world over will become proxies of the Chinese apparatus, whether they like it or not. Beijing will send what are known as "trace requests," or requests for information on suspected individuals to its sudden international allies, who will look into their database, perhaps launch investigations of their own, and whatever information is found will find its way back to Beijing. Through this process, flags will be affixed to the files of countless individuals who will either be barred from entering China or, if they do, face the risk of imprisonment.
In the name of cooperation, in the spirit of the Games, various intelligence agencies will thus become complicit in repression. Terrorism will be redefined, if only temporarily, as anything that opposes the authoritarian practices of the government in Beijing. Unless the world's security services take the moral path -- a very unlikely possibility, sadly -- those will be Games for individuals who have given in to tyranny.
The marathoners will run, the swimmers will swim and the cyclists will cycle, but around them, cheering, will be the architects of a repressive regime and an army of hollow men, leaning together.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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