A 2020 Summer Olympics promotion at the Metropolitan Government Office Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. The Games are now set to be held in 2021. Photo: AFP

With large numbers of people due to visit Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, the Japanese authorities are making anti-terrorism preparations ahead of one of the most significant global events. Yes, Japan is now one of the world’s most peaceful nations and isn’t involved in the international fight against terrorism. In 2015, following the beheading of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto by an ISIS militant, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to expand the government’s support to countries combating the terrorist group. However, in 2016, he announced that Japan was not going to take part in military campaigns against the group.

Does it mean that Japan has gained a sort of immunity to terror attacks? Unlikely. According to a report by The Counter Extremism Project, while al-Qaeda tends to choose targets in countries that are involved in military conflicts, ISIS terrorist assaults are planned irrespective of the policy pursued.

Symbolism of terrorism

As a highly significant and symbolic event, they bring with them new risks to a host country. This is due to the fact that symbols play an essential role in terrorists’ choice of targets, serving as a means of communicating their message to their audience. By attacking international venues, terrorists seek to achieve a multiplier effect, arousing fear even in those who are thousands of miles away.  

On top of that, sporting events typically draw large crowds to an area, something that influences the choice of terrorists as well. While crowded spaces allow for the infliction of a greater number of casualties, it is still difficult to prevent assaults there simply by erecting security barriers.

Aum Shinrikyo cult 

As for Japan’s domestic terror threat, it is the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult that springs to mind first. The sect was responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin attack perpetrated in 1995. The group’s founder, Shoko Asahara, and six other members of the sect were executed by hanging last year. However, Aleph, its main successor, and Hikari no Wa, a splinter group headed by a former Aum spokesman, Fumihiro Joyu, are still legal in the country, albeit designated “dangerous religions.” Today, they are closely monitored by the PSIA, Japan’s national intelligence agency.

A report released by the PSIA in 2019 says that on the day of Asahara’s execution, the intelligence agency conducted sweeping on-site inspections at facilities belonging to the groups. The information gathered has confirmed that its members are still dangerous and “under the influence of Asahara.” In January, the PSIA made a decision to continue the surveillance on the basis that “there was even now a fact to indicate the danger that the cult group may resort to acts of indiscriminate mass murder.”

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Forewarned is forearmed

And this is where the work of security officers, fighters of the invisible front, is invaluable. So what security measures are really effective at such major events as the Olympic Games? I contacted Bobby Chacon, an attorney and retired FBI agent who has rich experience with Olympic security, including the 2002 Salt Lake and 2004 Athens Games, and asked for his opinion on the matter.

“In my experience, which includes four Olympic Games and countless smaller athletic and special events around the world, the security measures vary greatly and are often a reflection of how each individual host country has set up its pre-existing law enforcement and military apparatus,” Chacon said.

“The Olympic Security apparatus has many layers, which include private contract security workers inside and outside specific Olympic venues, the local police, who interact with those contractors at the access control points, and the venue might have its own security force, the larger local police forces citywide and statewide, and finally the military and how they will be integrated into the overall security plan,” he continued. “Beyond that, many heads of state attend the Olympics and bring their own security forces as well as some high-profile athletes who also might have private security personnel with them.”

Chacon added, “With so many layers of security, it is imperative that a comprehensive overall security plan is put into place and that all security stakeholders have a role in the process. Vitally important is a security communications plan that ensures all personnel involved in security can effectively communicate with one another and that a single, clear and respected chain of command is known to all. 

“And the security elements are not the only ones that need to coordinate. Functional areas such as production, ticketing, credentialing, and others all must coordinate to ensure maximum efficiency is provided to security elements.”

The expert has also highlighted the importance of using advanced technologies when providing security for such events: “Technology is ever evolving and the security apparatus must be a position to leverage the best and most effective new technologies. In outdoor venues, this might include drones, for example. Also, security could be given access to production camera feeds so they could conduct surveillance within crowded spaces without being compromised.”

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He noted, “Access into venues is also an area that needs to be examined. As was learned from the terrorist attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the attack can take place just outside the secure venue space and still have the desired effect. So venue access plans should include many access points to lessen the amount of large cues and large crowds gathering outside the secured perimeter. Exit plans should also include spacing crowds out so that a single event cannot affect large amounts of people.”

So what security measures are being taken in Japan in the run-up to the Olympic Games? Hundreds of security cameras have been installed in parks and streets, with Tokyo 2020 being the first Olympics to use facial recognition technology. Anti-terrorism drills based on a bomb attack scenario have been carried out at the city’s major Olympic venues. But whatever technologies are used, much depends on how well the work is coordinated and vigilance of those in charge of our security.

Russian journalist Tatiana Kanunnikova is a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs.

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