Olympic Security: What Would 007 Do?

Kudos to the LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games)!

What better way to celebrate true British culture and identity (and yes, humor) than to have James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) escort Queen Elizabeth II Into the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in true 007 fashion?

I really enjoyed the special video footage aired during the opening ceremony. A brilliant idea, but I have three immediate wishes.

I wish other English movie characters cum spy agents like Austin Powers and Johnny English would also feature in this truly comedic, quintessentially British moment.

I also wish the cast included all the past on-screen James Bond actors, perhaps to usher Her Majesty en masse to her seat at the stadium.

And I wish… ahem, US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would play the role of party blooper and jump out of nowhere to spoil the event in his very own “disconcerting” way.

Well, no worries, all the real James Bonds, security staff and brave hearts would jump forward to salvage the moment. Fat hope.

The real James Bonds as we know them are clearly both stirred and shaken, not prepared to take extra risks given their low morale and jaws-dropping poor compensation package. And the general public would probably not count on the outsourced security and protection industry either.

Just last week, the head of the British spy agency MI6, Sir Robert John Sawers, voiced concerns to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) about the low staff morale among his sleuths and blamed the poor pay and working conditions for making his agents unwilling to go all out, leading some to seek alternative, less risky and more lucrative employment in the private sector.

“People are less likely to go the extra mile and do the more dangerous thing or take that added level of risk if they feel they are not recognized for it and their rewards are somehow inadequate,” said Sawers. “Now this is a growing problem.”

His remarks followed a security report to the ISC that calls for more attractive pay packages, particularly for “unique” sectors such as the intelligence services and highly skilled agents like cyberspace specialists.

The starting salary at the three British intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (communications headquarters of the British government) – is about £25,000 a year, rising to only £43,000 after ten years in service.

That is definitely not enough for the typical James Bond to buy rounds of martinis and wear hand-tailored tuxedos, much less drive fancy fast cars or sleep (rarely alone) in exclusive hotel suites – and it seems unlikely such extravagances would be paid for by the government in these times of austerity.

The report also highlights the “grave concern” about the failing capability of the intelligence agencies to keep their cyberspace experts –so it should not be surprising that companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft are attracting computer experts with salaries three times as high as what they might earn at GCHQ, according to GCHQ director Iain Lobhan.

These amount easily to a punch under the belt in the modern boxing ring of the fight against cybercrimes and the much publicized cyber espionage. And it is a huge blow considering previous reports about ambitious attempts by the British government to aggressively expand cyber security capability, outfit the police force with specialized e-crime centers and channel millions into tech-focused agencies such as GCHQ, with its eavesdropping mandate.

And let’s not forget the thriving private commercial investigative firms that have been absorbing former spies in huge numbers to handle due diligence, background checks and other cloak-and-dagger type tasks like counter corporate espionage for their deep-pockets private sector clients.

There are also those private firms that specialize solely in the provision of security and protection ‑ the bodyguards business that men on the street would relate to.

“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, [the] supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” Romney said just prior to his London visit last week, prompting howls of derision at his undiplomatic gaffe noting “disconcerting” signs over London’s Olympics preparations.

Romney was obviously referring to the earlier rounds of media reports about embarrassing security lapses, shortage of security staff and the apparent inadequacy of outsourced security forces.

To add salt to the wounds, Israel went a step further to bolster its own security presence at the Games amid fears that an Iranian terror squad in Europe may orchestrate an attack on its athletes – the Israeli government has reportedly dispatched agents from its very own internal security service, Shin Bet, to protect Israeli athletes.

I suppose the famous British spy novelist John le Carre is currently busy penning his next thriller. And I certainly hope he will have his fictional hero George Smiley revisit those famous spy sites he created in the heart of London – the St. Ermin's Hotel at 2 Caxton Street, No. 2 and 3 Carlton Gardens just outside St. James' Park and the Old Star Pub on 66 Broadway, in Westminster near the Parliament – to recruit some serious good sleuths, of course with some very good compensation packages.

(Vanson Soo runs an independent business intelligence practice specialized in the Greater China region. Email: soovans@gmail.com. A different version of this appears in The Standard of Hong Kong.)


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