Ward Elcock
Federal Security Support to the 2010 Olympics
Mar 15, 2008

Mr. Elcock is a respected veteran of security matters in the higher levels of the federal Public Service, having headed CSIS and been more recently the Deputy Minister of National Defence. FrontLine Security’s Executive Editor, Clive Addy, welcomes his perspective as a follow-up to our recent edition on the security of the 2010 Olympics.

Canada's Meaghan Simister is introduced to the media in the Ice House at Canada Olympic Park at a conference to kick off the 2007-08 World Cup season.

Q:What do you see yourself bringing to the security table to ensure the safety of Canadians and participants at the 2010 Olympics and how would you define your role?

Well, I have been in the security and defence fields in the federal government for some 15 to 20 years and have been working at the Deputy Minister level since 1989. Essentially, I suppose that my background is as good or better than anyone’s for the task ahead of ­coordinating federal government security support to the Vancouver 2010 winter games. I know how Ottawa works and can be made to work, such that we get the best level of cooperation from all federal authorities, departments and agencies. I would define my role essentially as that of a facilitator and coordinator of this federal government support.

Q:What do you see as the challenges and the threat to the security of the Olympics at the National level and what responses from the various departments and agencies of the federal government would you expect to be available to handle these?

As you will understand, we are not, for obvious reasons, about to talk about the precise nature of any threat at this or any time. In reality, we have two years to narrow down the precise nature of these threats as the Olympics approach. At this juncture, of course, there is knowledge in many federal departments about the potential span of such threats; in DND, CSIS, RCMP and Public Safety, for example, ­possible threats are well known and ­monitored. The approach at this stage is to operate at a potential medium threat level with the ability to scale up or down as required, and as we define the threat more narrowly when closer to events.

The structures that we have now, through international partnerships and domestic capabilities will, I am sure, provide a pretty good idea of what the threats will be, be they criminal or terrorist.

There are other positives that we must recognize as well. First, these are winter games and, as such, these are normally smaller and thus potentially less complex to secure than the summer games. However, it is still important to protect against the unexpected or uninvited guest. Work to secure venues and identify any surrounding critical infrastructure that may require protection is well underway.

I see this work as an iterative process to build a layered security approach and applied as the evolving threat level might require. The federal agencies play a significant role and do a good job in this definition of these threat levels. They may also play a major role in preventing, mitigating and responding to any threats.

Q:How do you see your office fitting into the planning and operations for the actual delivery of security within the three levels of governments and other international agencies involved?

Our office is relatively new, created last October and only really getting up to speed in the last month and a half. It currently consists of seven personnel. It is established within the Privy Council Office (PCO) whose responsibility is that of coordinating all the policies, resources and activities of the federal government. My specific function is to bring a coordinated federal response to the security challenges of the 2010 Olympics, within this multi-dimensional framework of public and private interested agencies such as VANOC, the IOC, the governments of BC, its local municipalities and the participating countries, to name the most evident.

Canada's ski jumpers, Stefan Read (Top 30 in Torino) and Kate Willis (currently ranked 7th overall in world rankings) are photographed at the Hinterzarten Summer Grand Prix.

PCO is the key integrating agency in the government of Canada and it makes sense that they perform this function on this file. That said, as the integrator at the federal level I have been most impressed by the excellent coordination done on their own by federal departments to date. They are working well together. They have set up a series of issue specific inter-departmental working groups dealing with security and other issues. All continue to deliver good support. I have people from our office involved as necessary in these groups and we have already been able to expedite what would have been more difficult issues had we not been there. We do not put ourselves between departments and their work with other governments or agencies; we do help ensure that these links work effectively and we facilitate the resolution of any obstacles that either side may encounter. Sometimes, however, they do need someone such as us to expedite or resolve certain difficulties between other stakeholders when they arise. We provide much appreciated value-added in these security preparations, as I am sure we will in operations when the Games begin.

Q:What are, in very general terms and in your view, the major security command and control challenges of this event?

As I indicated, we do not ourselves do security. We facilitate security efforts between federal departments and between them and outside agencies. This, of course, will remain our major function as part of the command and control during the events themselves. I am sure that there will be challenges in this realm. The key element to ensure the effective awareness and timely reaction to any events of a security nature in these Olympics is the Integrated Security Unit headed by the RCMP. There is a sophisticated joint structure responsible for the Games themselves, but essentially the Integrated Security Unit is the actual executor. We will remain available to them and the rest of the organizations to assist with expediting interdepartmental action federally. There may well be a time when my presence is required in BC more frequently and, if so, I will be there to do so, but the nature of my enabling function will not change. From my perspective then, I see that the Command and Control function is developing well and should thus able to face all challenges.

There will be a calendar of exercises of varying levels and complexity leading up to the Olympics that will ensure that we test this system more rigorously to ­reassure ourselves that we can meet such challenges. We will of course be part of some of those.

Q:What security innovations (technology or others) might we see to ­afford better coverage? For example, biometric watch lists, improved maritime and airport scrutiny?

I consider that the accreditation system for the Olympics is the most vital area. We must have the best possible screening of applications and ensuring accredited access where and when permitted.

I am sure that we will be able to improve upon previous Games. I do not think that we will have biometric accreditation at these Olympics, but we can no doubt expect evolutions in this realm in future Olympics, both in the review of the accreditation applications and in their form and use.

As to other concerns about potential terrorism or criminal activity in the greater Vancouver area concurrent with the Games, to take advantage of the availability of world-wide media, I recognize that no screening system is perfect. There are, ­however, different levels and methods of screening that can be triggered by threat alerts of different types at ports and points of entry on the one hand, and, on the other, local law and order forces will be prepared to take on such extra risks. I consider these measures to be adequate. In any event we will most likely be training for such occurrences during the lead-up exercise ­calendar and reinforcing any perceived or real shortcomings.

Q:What permanent security spin-offs might result at the national level from this preparation and the establishment of security infrastructure for these games?

Anytime you do something big like the Olympics, it takes you through to a bigger level of experience and expertise. It’s something equivalent to, instead of acquiring knowledge at the grade school you are doing so at University level. It gives people more experience of working at that higher level and the consequences of that down the road are positive as you go forward because you have a large bunch of people who have been through this gigantic exercise. They are more confident about how they work together and know how to work together. These are of course intangibles but they are certainly important to our future collective security knowledge and expertise. One has to renew these types of big events from time to time to maintain the currency of this valuable expertise. This is the major beneficial spin-off as I see it.

Canadian World Cup team members from bobsleigh, skeleton and luge pose at the top of the Olympic Track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary to celebrate Dow Chemical sponsorship announcement in support of all three sliding sports.

As well, there will no doubt be security material, cars and so on, and facilities or technical systems that will be of use and benefit to the security authorities and others after the Games. These systems will, of course, have to be “ever-greened” in any case the farther along we go before another major event.

But essentially, it is the great intangible multi-level benefit to all of working through a major event such as this and the depth of expertise that it creates, that is the greatest residual value-added in my view.

Q:What closing reflections can you share with our readers?

I believe that we are filling what was a real need for a federal coordination agency at this level. It was unfair to expect the RCMP or even Public Safety to carry out this ­function, but I must say that I am most impressed that people were and continue doing what they are supposed to be doing and doing it well. We look forward to a ­successful event.  

Clive Addy, Executive Editor of FrontLine Security magazine, thanks Ward Elcock for taking the time to meet with him.
© FrontLine Security 2008