Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 7 News List

South Korea can only do so much to prepare for aggression during the Olympics

As next year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics approach, the nation is doing what it can to ensure safety

By Jane Chung and Hyunjoo Jin  /  Reuters, SEOUL

Illustration: Louise Ting

Rattled by rising tensions with North Korea, South Korea is taking extra measures to try to ensure the safety of next year’s Winter Olympics, including setting up a crack cyberdefense team and doubling the number of troops, according to officials and documents reviewed by reporters.

The Games are to take place in February next year in the mountainous resort town of Pyeongchang, just 80km from the heavily fortified border with North Korea.

They come after a series of missile and nuclear tests show the North making rapid advances in its weapons program and as inflammatory rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington stirs up concerns about another conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean Ministry of Defense is to deploy about 5,000 armed forces personnel at the Games, double the 2,400 on duty during the 2002 Soccer World Cup, which South Korea co-hosted with Japan, according to government officials and documents.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee for next year’s Games (POCOG) is also selecting a private cybersecurity company to guard against a hacking attack from the North, tender documents show.

The committee is seeking to fast-track the selection as tensions rise in the wake of South Korea’s controversial deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system and as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un tests weapons at an unprecedented rate.

“Cyberthreats have increased due to external factors such as the THAAD deployment and recent North Korean missile launches,” the committee said in the document.

South Korea has blamed the North for a series of hacking attempts in the last few years, including a 2013 cyberattack against South Korean banks and broadcasters that froze computer systems for more than a week. Pyongyang denied any responsibility.

While South Korea faces unique challenges with its hostile and nuclear-armed neighbor, the level of threats and security to counter them has escalated globally since South Korea last hosted a major international sporting event.

The POCOG is hiring a private security contractor, stipulating the firm should be capable of running around 500 personnel to operate X-ray screening each day during the event, a separate document seen by reporters shows.

It has earmarked 20 billion won (US$17.5 million) for the screening security measures and another 1.3 billion won for the cyber security protection, according to the documents.

An official from the South Korean National Intelligence Service, the nation’s spy agency, is in charge of security operations, working with the government’s anti-terrorism center, the organizing committee’s spokeswoman said.

South Korea has also created a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to guard against terrorism around the Games, Asia’s first Winter Olympics outside Japan.

“We will search Olympic venues to check for bombs, protect athletes and visitors, and guard against any attempts to assassinate key figures,” said Jin Jeong-hyeon, a police inspector from the SWAT team.

In late August, the POCOG held a two-day briefing with major Olympics sponsors, including McDonald’s Corp and Coca-Cola Co, to talk about the measures being put in place, a government statement said.

It gave them a look at emergency evacuation facilities during the briefing, although further details were not disclosed.

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