An Olympic approach to security

Milipol Paris News spoke with Aldric Ludescher, Chief Security Officer, for the International Olympic Committee, in an exclusive interview following his participation in the panel discussion “The Olympic Games as vectors of transformation and legacy” on Friday 17th November at the show.

Following the recent Rugby World Cup, what lessons in security has it provided for the upcoming Olympic Games? 

From our perspective, and we are second row when it comes to direct operational lessons learned, the Rugby World Cup was a great success from a security point of view. The most important takeaway for us is a high sense of confidence that all the security actors are really working in an integrated way and a very effective way, and are completely up to the mission of securing the next level, which is the Olympic Games. Operationally speaking, the lesson I personally took from observing security was, of course, the importance of the integration of security and transport planning. This is a huge challenge in a city like Paris. A smooth flowing transport system has big benefits for a well-working security machine. The second takeaway was the increasing importance of drones and counter-drone measures, specifically. There has been, I think, in the high 50s of drone interventions over roughly a 60-day period. That means one to two drone interventions a day. All those drones were benign drones, but they still put a lot of pressure on the system that needs to intervene. You don’t know before you go there if you need your Hazmat team, your CBRN team, which means you need all types of different resources that need to be deployed regularly. This is a problem that will just grow and grow, not just for major events, but for critical infrastructure and other systems over the years. The use of commercially available drones in a hostile way is something we see a lot on the battlefield and will become, or is already, a real challenge. And I think the third lesson, in this case really strategically rather than actually operationally, is the problem of organised influence and misinformation campaigns, in other words, fake news. This wasn’t too much of a challenge for the Rugby World Cup because the geopolitical implications of an event like this are probably slightly less in the forefront than for the Olympic Games where we really have the whole world coming out of a strong geopolitical magnifying glass, so to speak. We can already see some of these elements manifesting now, but at the same time, time we’ve seen the measures that the French state, together with the organising committee, are taking to combat this. The approach is to be very proactive in identifying these threats, but at the same time also creating a counter-narrative to help to control the information, separate what is wrong, what is influence operation versus what are the facts, and not just protect the event, but also protect the reputation of the country and the trust that the public has in public institutions. So overall some really crucial takeaways. 

Based on what you were discussing in the conference today surrounding heritage, what would give you a lasting feeling of success in terms of worldwide reputation? What impression would you like to leave on the international stage following the Olympics? 

It’s a really good question. To a large degree, what I personally would like to see in my role as the IOC security person has already been achieved. We have adapted the French national security system to the needs of a highly complex security operation by creating structures like the Centre de Renseignement Olympique, the COO, the Olympic Intelligence Centre, which is really crucial but has been a little bit of a cultural change for the institutions to accept and centralise information to one cell that is specifically focused on, in this case, Olympic-related threats. Taking it one level up is the creation of the CNCS, the Centre National de Commandement Strategique, which can very quickly pivot into a highly effective crisis management centre, following all the principles of fusioning, fusion cells, intelligent sharing and interoperability between the different agencies. This is also something that seven years ago when we started working here, we didn’t see. The silos that we all know exist in every institution and every government were very pronounced. We have definitely seen a change here and what I hope is an increase in effectiveness in the security agencies to provide a longer term, better security for citizens. There are a couple of other examples, but the one that speaks to me particularly because I have a background as a special operations person, is what was mentioned on Wednesday I think at the conference here by General Réty from the GIGN, who has developed and delivered a strategic concept of operation where for the first time all three police special operations teams, the GIGN, the RED and the BRI, are standing together on the scene and are saying we now have a joint concept of operation. This might not sound like much for somebody who looks at it from the top, but having worked in these structures it is an unbelievable achievement. This organisation of people putting their egos aside, forgetting history and just saying let’s do this together. I don’t want to be cheesy, but I think a lot about the the Olympic motto faster, higher, stronger, together. This last part was the addition that the IOC made three years ago. For me, this is the perfect example of realising we can only do this together. It’s not just words on paper. It is translated into real operational action, which is, I think, a great success already. I think once the Olympic Games are over, the heritage will be this common sense of accomplishment, where the nation looks back and has this deep sense of pride in what they’ve achieved. Because there are not many countries that can pull it off, even in the best of circumstances. And we all know the environment here is very complex and very challenging, but we can absolutely do it. I think it’s something that will be very beneficial for the state of the French soul. I would feel personally very proud as a French citizen, but also in terms of what we can do as a society, that we can host the world in a time when it’s probably the most difficult to get the world together.

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