Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh say can you see 'em coming north?

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire hosted what seemed like a political Lilith Fair on July 27 when Department of Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano and British Columbia Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations Naomi Yamamoto visited Blaine, Bellingham and Seattle.

Spotted among the delegation was Maj. Gen. Timothy Louwenberg, Washington State's top military man. Part of the July 27 agenda was the ribbon-cutting at the US$4 million Olympic Coordination Centre at Bellingham International Airport. That's where personnel from 40 military, police and emergency services agencies will monitor the 2010 Winter Olympics for any trouble.

Few officials on either side of the border -- including Napolitano -- want to discuss how many American "boots on the ground" will be north of the 49th parallel during the 2010 Winter Olympics. They'll be here. Trust me... but not in a Nixonian sense.

The U.S. interest in security of the 2010 Winter Olympics isn't just because it is conveniently next door. Presidential Decision Directive 39, issued in 1995 by President Bill Clinton, states:

"It is the policy of the United States to deter, defeat and respond vigorously to all terrorist attacks on our territory and against our citizens, or facilities, whether they occur domestically, in international waters or airspace or on foreign territory. The United States regards all such terrorism as a potential threat to national security as well as a criminal act and will apply all appropriate means to combat it. In doing so, the U.S. shall pursue vigorously efforts to deter and preempt, apprehend and prosecute, or assist other governments to prosecute, individuals who perpetrate or plan to perpetrate such attacks.

"We shall work closely with friendly governments in carrying out our counterterrorism policy and will support Allied and friendly governments in combating terrorist threats against them."

Put that in the context of the Games and U.S. government policy means that it needs to watch out for U.S. athletes, media, sponsors and spectators, wherever they are.

The United States Olympic team is expected to be the biggest. NBC is the biggest broadcast rights holder. Parent General Electric is among four U.S.-based global Olympic sponsors. Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa are the others. General Motors is the Games' vehicle sponsor. Even Canadian icon Hudson's Bay Co. is U.S.-owned.

The General Accounting Office reported “almost 20 entities and offices within a number of U.S. agencies (including DHS, State and Defense) provided more than $35 million in security assistance and support” in Greece during Athens 2004. The U.S. also had personnel in Torino, Italy for the 2006 Winter Games.

In 2008 -- on Valentine's Day, no less -- military commanders on both sides of the border signed the Civil Assistance Plan. NORAD Commander Gen. Gene Renuart and his Canadian counterpart Lt. Gen. Marc Dumais of Canada Command inked a pact and shook hands on a deal that would allow forces to cross the border in case of a natural disaster or terrorist incident.

U.S. forces began their massive National Level Exercise 2009, formerly known as TOPOFF (or Top Officials), on July 27 and it runs through July 31. Canadian military and public safety agencies are involved. The event was billed in a 2007 schedule as "Olympics Prep." (See page 7).

Nobody from the B.C. Government Integrated Public Safety Unit or City of Vancouver emergency operations office is involved this week. RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit Chief Bud Mercer said his group would not be involved. (In training for the World Police and Fire Games, perhaps?)

The official full-scale military exercise of the 2010 Games is Exercise Gold, which runs Nov. 2-7 in southwestern B.C. Olympic security is costing Canadian taxpayers a record $900 million.

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