When the world’s attention swings to South Korea on February 9, the spectators and participants will be thinking about more than gold medals. The saber-rattling between the neighboring Koreas makes for an ominous backdrop to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, a tension that ascertaining the countries’ athletes march under the same flag and skate on the same ice can’t quite erase.
The Korean situation is unique, but all modern Olympics face menaces, including terrorism and the personal-security hazards that come with big international mob. There are definitely modern risks to oversee, as well. Chief among other issues: drones and computers. “What’s different now from past Olympics is increased apply of unmanned systems and the cyber domain to stage assaults, ” says security analyst Peter Singer. “The attacker doesn’t even have to be onsite. They can do it from afar.”
For instance, terrorists could use unmanned air or ground vehicles to deliver chemical agents or explosives, Singer said. Remote hackers could stage denial-of-service attacks on networks supporting the games or steal travelers’ credit card data. They might try to sabotage the Games by altering medicine test data, interfering with scoring systems, or doxing challengers by liberating private information to embarrass or confuse them before a big event. There are endless boulevards that lone wolfs, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, or state agents can take to achieve an equally broad range of nefarious goals.
For this reason, secreted in that tension-filled background will be the security forces of dozens of countries, led by the South Korean government’s own key agencies, all working to benefit from a collective expertise that rarely consolidates. Allied nation consult readily with each other during planning and amid the nearly 2 week of events, and even typically adversarial countries are more likely to share information at the Games.
South Korea’s security forces will run the show, but it’s no astonish the United States will have one of the largest forces at the Games. This is where the Diplomatic Security Service gets its turn to glisten. The State Department’s security and law-enforcement agency is charged with protecting embassies and US citizens abroad, and will have 100 agents in the two countries, plus dozens of additional personnel. They’ll be working in support of the United States Olympic Committee’s own security office and alongside smaller teams from other American organizations that comprise the State Department’s International Security Event Group. Among them: the FBI and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which specializes in spacecraft data analysis and global threat monitoring. In total, the US is sending 240 athletes and 200 security personnels to Korea. And just like those athletes, these are specialized competitors who invest much of “peoples lives” trained for events like this all-important two-week stretch on the global stage.