Transformed by terrorism at the ’72 Munich Olympics

Prior to the morning of Sept. 5, 1972, Thomas McMillen was like most of his counterparts on the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, excited to represent his country and looking forward to hopefully taking home a gold medal.

After that morning, however, his view on the Games as well as our nation’s security would never be the same as terrorists broke into the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, taking hostage and later killing 11 Israeli athletes.

"I was 20 years old, and I said to myself ‘[terrorism] is coming to America’," McMillen said. "I said terrorism is something we’re going to have to learn to live with and that was my first thought. Those attacks were what Rudy Giuliani called the start of modern terrorism, so having been there when it all began is kind of ironic in an interesting way."

Looking back at the 1972 Munich Olympics, McMillen said that it was hard for him and his teammates to continuing playing the games with what had happened to the Israeli athletes in the back of their minds.

"It was a frightening experience because they kept saying there were going to follow up with attacks and bombs and so forth," he said. "You were kind of mindful of security and you never thought about that before. Who would have thought the Olympics would have been a place for an attack?"

With his experience with terror forever emblazoned on his memories of the 72 Olympic Games, McMillen -- a former NBA player and Maryland congressman -- formed Homeland Security Capital Corporation, a company dedicated to outfitting the homeland security industry with the latest security detection technologies and services.

McMillen said that his company is primarily involved with nuclear and radiation clean-up and with the production of portable radiation detection products.

"Over the years, I’ve sort of matured on my reaction to terrorism," said McMillen. "When I was at the Olympics my emotional reaction was that the games should be stopped in homage to the athletes. [I thought that] the games are not that important and we should cancel them."

"I have really changed my view on that," he continued. "I don’t think we should succumb (to the terrorists); the Israelis never do and we shouldn’t either. Part of my view on this is that we have to learn to do our best to protect ourselves against the very, very big issues, weapons of mass destruction and the like. We can’t secure everything, but we’ve got to make sure we secure the big things."

Though security is much improved at the Olympics since Munich, McMillen said that the recent stabbing of an American couple by a suicidal man at a tourist attraction in Beijing reinforces what a monumental task it is to try and secure a venue the size of the Olympics.

"It shows you how difficult it is to really defend the Olympics because it’s not just the Village, which is fairly easy to defend. It’s also around the area [near the Village], and that’s a big problem for China because they have a lot of separatist groups. There has been a lot of violence in [China’s] western provinces, and it’s very, very difficult for China to defend," McMillen added.

With the heavy emphasis China has placed on surveillance at the Beijing Games, however, McMillen said the real question as it pertains to the changing landscape of Olympic security remains what the country will look like after the Olympics are over.

"Usually you remember the Olympics because of the great sport facilities that were built, but the legacy of this Olympics will almost be a police state," he said. "It’s very Orwellian; you won’t be able to go down the street without being tracked in China."

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