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Fighter jets thunder above the English countryside. Missiles stand ready. And Big Brother is watching like never before.
The London Olympics are no ordinary Games. Not since World War II have Britain and the United States teamed up for such a massive security operation on British soil.
Hundreds of American intelligence, security and law enforcement officials are flying across the Atlantic for the Games, which begin on July 27. Some will be embedded with their British counterparts, sharing intelligence and troubleshooting. Dozens of Interpol officers will be deployed.
The unique collaboration is rooted in common threats the partners have faced since the terror attacks against the US on Sept 11, 2001 and Britain's own suicide bombings in 2005.
Britain was the US' closest ally in Afghanistan and Iraq, making it a prime target of terror groups. And dozens of recent terror plots, including the 2006 plot to blow up nearly a dozen transatlantic airliners, have been hatched within Britain's sizable Muslim population, more than 1 million of whom have ties to Pakistan.
Although other Olympics have taken place since 9/11 - Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, Beijing and Vancouver - London poses a different breed of security challenge.
"I'm confident that there is more than adequate security here for these Games," said Louis Susman, the US ambassador to Britain. "That said, we live in a tumultuous world, whether that be in New York or London."
Intelligence officials say there has been an expected increase in chatter among extremist groups but there are still no specific or credible threats to the London Games. The terror level is labeled substantial, a notch below severe and what it has been for much of the past decade.
A substantial threat level indicates that an attack is a strong possibility. "There is a perception in some quarters that the terrorist threat to this country has evaporated," said Jonathan Evans, head of Britain's domestic spy agency, MI5. "Bin Laden is dead, al-Qaida's senior leadership in Pakistan is under serious pressure and there hasn't been a major terror attack here for seven years.
"In back rooms and in cars and on the streets of this country, there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here."
The potential threats to the Games are broad and diverse - a lone wolf attacker, a possible non-Asian Muslim convert who could slip by security with a European passport, a coordinated strike like 9/11 or a debilitating cyberattack.
Up to 1 million visitors are expected for the Games. Some 300,000 people are expected to flow into Olympic Park in east London each day at peak times.
(China Daily 06/28/2012 page10)