Friday, August 29, 2008

More Olympic security holes

I remarked the other day on how it was relatively easy to smuggle knives on to the supposedly very "secure" subway system here in Olympic Beijing (and how it was positively encouraged on the totally non-secure buses!).

Now that the games are over (I felt inhibited earlier), I can share with you some further observations on the shortcomings of the security arrangements at the venues themselves.

At the venues, there was one of those metal-sensor 'doorways' they use at the airports - but no-one was paying much attention to that, because they pretty much expected you to have forgotten to take your keys or your mobile phone out of your pocket, and they were allowing you to carry quite a lot of stuff through with you.

There was a pat-down afterwards - but it was a fairly cursory pat-down: armpits and hip pockets only. And it appeared to be being conducted by student volunteers who hadn't had much training.

There was a bag-scanner, but it didn't appear that the volunteers operating that were taking their duties any more earnestly than those operating the ones in the subway stations (who pay no attention whatsoever, and often nod off to sleep). Moreover, they were being pretty free and easy over what you had to put through this scanner anyway.

The pat-down people had hand-held metal-detectors, but weren't using them much.

There were no dogs. No explosive-sniffing devices.

There didn't appear to be any professional security personnel supervising the operation at all. (I'm sure there must have been a few. Perhaps they were cunningly disguised as undergraduate volunteers?)

As I've said before, I think they were skewing that crucial balance between risk and inconvenience way too far towards risk. It really would have been terribly easy for a malefactor to take just about anything they'd wanted into an Olympic venue.

On my first visit to an event, I had wrapped up my camera in a plastic carrier bag to protect it from the threatened rain. As I approached the security check, I dumped all my other metal pocket contents into this bag, thinking that I would be asked to put it through the bag-scan. Instead, they just asked what was in the bag, I said a camera, and they invited me to walk with it through the 'doorway' scanner. No-one actually bothered to look inside the bag, either before or after the scanner. Heck, if they were really being sticklers, I'd have expected them not just to look at the camera, but to examine it closely and ask to see it in operation - a bulky SLR camera (like a laptop computer) is one of those things that are very easy to hollow out and fill with explosives (or detonators, or small firearms, or.....).

A few days later, my friend The Artist went on to the Olympic Green to meet some people and take some photographs. She took her tripod along - which is actually one of the things quite expressly prohibited on the notices in front of the checkpoints. The volunteers queried this, and she gave them her best 'helpless' look. Some kind of 'supervisor' was summoned - who immediately OK'ed her to take it in, without even examining it to see if its hollow legs had perhaps been filled with nitrates or cocaine or whatever.

I've seen and heard of numerous similar examples too. The "security" was pretty much non-existent.

I wonder if they might have let me take my guitar in???

(Hat-tip for this pic to my old friend Tolstoy, who recently put me on to the marvellous FrostFireZoo website.)

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