The Stealth U.S. Mission to Protect Olympics From Terrorists

The U.S. intelligence and diplomatic community is helping to secure the Olympics in Paris this summer against possible terrorist threats, The Daily Beast has learned.

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides imagery intelligence and geospatial data for planning and support of national security, is providing the Olympics planning committee with geospatial reference products. The NGA, for its part, has been working on the security preparations for two years, an official told The Daily Beast.

A little known State Department-run group known as the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is also running point on security matters for some security operations in Paris. It provides both public and private streams of information on regional security for American private sector interests.

For the Paris Olympics, the council will be providing a news portal, in-person meetings, security assessments, and daily security reports, according to a bulletin reviewed by The Daily Beast. The council is also running a WhatsApp Group for the event.

Images with a slogan reading “Paris is getting ready for 2024”, refering to the 2024 Olympic Games that Paris was awarded, are projected on the Arc de Triomphe monument during a laser and 3D video mapping show as part of the New Year celebrations in Paris on December 31, 2017.

Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty

Companies that are operating at the Olympics this year can apply to gain access to the information, a Diplomatic Security Service official told the Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, the State Department also has a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) that will be working to coordinate the safety of U.S. citizens and visiting VIPs. The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, which is the security lead for the United States at the Paris Olympics, is working more broadly with French government law enforcement and security organizations.

The National Counterterrorism Center is also working to support U.S. security efforts related to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, an official said.

In years past, other elements of the U.S. intelligence community have also provided security support for Olympic Games, including the CIA, NSA, and FBI. The FBI has prestaged agents abroad to help in the case a terrorist attack occurs, for instance, while the NSA has provided signals intelligence support to threat information sharing.

The preparations coincide with a deadly shooting attack in Moscow earlier this year, which ISIS has claimed responsibility for. After the attack, France increased its security level to its highest level.

In preparation for the Olympics games, France itself has been conducting military drills behind the scenes to prepare to thwart terrorist attacks on the games, according to a report from the BBC.

The opening ceremony is slated to be grand, pulling inspiration from the romantic charm Paris has to offer, including athletes drifting down the Seine River, with views of the Louvre, Notre-Dame, and the Eiffel Tower in the background. But French officials have implied that there is a backup plan if things go awry.

“We will be prepared,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in recent remarks at the Aquatic Center, according to El Pais. “If the threat evolves,” he said, “we have withdrawal scenarios.”

Already, the plans for the opening ceremony on the River Seine have been pulled back. Originally, organizers had planned for a crowd of 600,000, which has since been halved. Marc Guillaume, prefect of the Paris region, has also said that there will be less than 100 boats, rather than the originally planned 160 boats, according to testimony he shared with the French Senate.

For the ceremony, 45,000 security officers will be working security, including on the upper quays, compared with the usual 3,000-4,000 officers securing the scene, a person familiar with the planning told The Daily Beast. The Paris 2024 organizers will send out 2,000 private security guards to secure the lower quays and the Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower. Government forces will be deployed to secure both the river and airspace, the person familiar with the planning told The Daily Beast.

The Paralympic opening ceremony will take place along the Champs-Elysées and at Place de la Concorde, a stone’s throw from the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The French are no strangers to terrorist attacks, having dealt with ISIS attacks on the Bataclan concert hall in 2015 and the ramming attack in Nice in 2016. Terrorists also targeted a sporting venue—the national stadium outside Paris—in the 2015 attack. The closing ceremonies of the Olympics are set to take place in the same location, at the Stade de France.

Already this year, France has foiled several ISIS plots, officials said.

Terrorist attacks against sporting venues are rare—with only 74 terrorist attacks targeting such venues in roughly five decades, according to a 2023 study citing the Global Terrorism Database.

The French government is investigating the backgrounds of people volunteering in the games as well as those of private security officers, El Pais reported.

France has also reached out to 45 countries to provide police officers or civilian personnel to help secure the Olympics, including Britain and Germany. The military has requested that foreign military officials provide “very specific” help for the games.

France has already been able to flex some of its counterterrorism work in recent days. Early in April, police in Paris boosted security before the Champions League soccer quarter-finals.

ISIS-related media published apparent threats to various stadiums in advance of the games, naming four stadiums with the caption “Kill them all.” France’s Interior Ministry acknowledged that it is on high alert, but isn’t sure where the threat may come from.

“We don’t know what location might be particularly targeted, neither in what conditions,” the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said.

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