AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Olympic sports themselves require precision and training, but so, too, does putting on the massive event and coordinating security for it. Fred Burton knows that well — he was in charge of security at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when a bomb exploded during a concert outside the Olympic Village. Now, he’s the Vice President of Intelligence and the Chief Security officer at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm based in Austin.
Stratfor spoke with KXAN News Today’s Sally Hernandez about his top concerns when it comes to protecting the athletes and the fans at this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Sally: Fred, is North Korea a threat to the games in PyeongChang?
Burton: No I don’t think so — the North Koreans have a lot at stake here. They actually have Olympic athletes attending the event. Trust me when I say, having worked Olympics myself, that the North Korean athletes visiting Seoul for the Olympics will probably be the most protective athletes. The last thing that the South Koreans want is anything to happen to the North Korean athletes inside the Olympic Village or at one of the venues.
Sally: When you are taking a look at security from a counter-terrorism standpoint, what are you most worried about with the games?
Burton: I’m not worried about the Olympic Village or the actual perimeter of the Olympic proper — that will be locked down. It’s the venues outside of the security bubble.
Sally: It’s those soft targets that you’ve mentioned so many times?
Burton: Yes, of course. Your soft targets would be nightclubs, bars, hotels away from the Olympic Village where you are still going to have a tremendous amount of international tourists, visitors, VIPs — and don’t forget you have hordes of Olympic sponsors, most of the major companies in the world are there, and they hold parties at outside venues and things like that. So with the rash of, for example, of vehicle rammings we’ve seen throughout Europe and the United States, I would be worried about that, too, outside of the security perimeter. That’s where you get into a resource problem. Literally, the South Koreans are not going to have enough resources to protect every soft target but nor does anywhere else if you put this Olympic Games inside the United States or inside Europe, nor would we. So those are the sort of thing that are outside of your control.
Sally: Is there anything different today that could increase security or is security threatened by the newest technology?
Burton: That’s a very good question. Technology has come a long way since the bombing at Centennial Park [ the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta]. For example, there is much better technology in the security space. There’s facial identification software, there is high-tech badging and credentialing to make sure the badge issued to ‘Fred Burton’ is ‘Fred Burton.’ There’s biometrics that come into play. There is the ability to scan passenger manifest to see who is flying in and out and border security technology that can put into place. So you can be on the lookout for any potential Islamic State or member of Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organizations trying to come in.
Sally: But is the enemy using technology too that could be detrimental as well?
Burton: Very well could be. That’s one of the challenges. As technology increases those kinds of tools, for example, drones are available for anybody who has the money and wants to purchase one. But I guarantee you there are some countermeasures, thoughts and response that are in place to deal with that kind of issue. You do try to game board and anticipate what folks could use, but at the end of the day when you start looking at some of these security problems, at least from my perspective, from a lessons-learned over the years at looking at disasters, there is usually a failure in human error. Someone doesn’t check a badge or someone doesn’t screen a car, for example, or someone thinks that truck was screened or there is a physical security kind of failure.
The other thing to think about, too, in all these large-scale events, Sally, is that you have thousands of people that are hired to support this. So, you have to start thinking about, ‘Who are these people?’ So if you are organizations like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, you have years to plan for something. So in the back of the agent’s mind standing post is ‘Well how good of background checks were actually ran on all these folks, the vendors, and what about the media? And who are these folks at times?’ You are always thinking about things like this and you just have to depend on good practices and procedures and good process to make sure everybody’s safe.