At the Frontline: U.S. Olympic Committee CSO Larry Buendorf

Next month, a delegation of nearly 1,200 U.S. athletes, coaches and support staff will make their way to Beijing, China, for the Olympics games. Behind the scenes, United States Olympic Committee Chief Security Officer Larry Buendorf will be keeping a close eye on the games, making sure that the four years he’s spent making security preparations with local authorities keep the Olympians and their handlers safe.

Buendorf became the USOC’s Chief Security Officer in 1993, following a career of more than 20 years with the U.S. Secret Service. While working for the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Division, Buendorf thwarted an assassination attempt against President Gerald Ford in September 1975 when Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to pull a gun on the president.

In addition to planning and implementing security measures for U.S. Olympic delegations, Buendorf is also responsible for the safety of athletes and staff at the USOC’s three training centers, located in Chula Vista, Calif., Lake Placid, N.Y., and the committee’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

In the midst of preparations for the upcoming summer games, Buendorf spoke with the about the unique security challenges posed by the Olympics and what it takes to keep America’s athletes safe.

What are some of your biggest challenges as chief security officer for the USOC?

I guess the biggest challenge is across the board, ensuring the security of our athletes whether they’re here domestically or whether they’re away internationally. It’s trying to stay on top of all the world issues that are going on, crises that are happening worldwide that might affect where our athletes are traveling. So that’s a constant pressure of trying to keep a finger on world activities.

Do you have a particular fear or is there one thing that scares you the most about the athletes’ travel?

Well, actually, I feel pretty good when I get the support of our U.S. embassies around the world that pay attention to our athletes when they arrive in country. There's a comfort level there knowing that I’m not there with them, but that there’s someone representing the United States that has an interest in those athletes that are in country.

Fears, as you know, are always there in today’s world. You have the fear of a terrorist act and you don’t know where it might come from. There’s no way for anyone to prevent a terrorist attack unless we have the intelligence ahead of time. That’s always in the back of your mind that they’re out and if they decide to direct their interest towards sport, then it might change our modus operandi.

How would you compare the scope of your position to that of other security officers/directors in other sporting industries?

Those directors or chiefs of security of other major sports, their responsibilities are very similar to what I do. They are coordinators if you will, liaisons to local law enforcement and authorities that might be providing support. They are there to ensure that that event goes off and that everybody’s doing what they should be doing. No different than what I do, except I have a lot more sports that I’m trying to cover. It’s not just one sport, it’s several sports and they all might be occurring at different locations, not just one location and that’s the big difference.

How do you go about ensuring the safety of the athletes and staff of the USOC and what types of security technologies have you implemented to do that?

It’s based on your liaison with those people that have the authority to provide the type of coverage necessary. In my position, whether it’s here in Colorado Springs working with the law enforcement agencies that are here or whether it’s in an international scene, China, for instance, working with the Chinese authorities trying to determine what they’re plan is so that I have an idea if its adequate to bring our team into China or if there are areas that need they’re attention. We don’t bring in security to another country. It’s their responsibility to provide security for all the athletes that arrive in China.

Generally, here we have state-of-the-art access systems and camera systems and control systems in place when our athletes are in our country and at our training centers, that provide them with a safe environment.

What types of preparations are currently underway as the Beijing games approach?

I’ve been traveling there for the past four years working with our U.S. embassy and the embassy has Olympic coordinators that are there that are specifically assigned to work with the authorities. I’ve gone there frequently to listen to their plan. I know that they have a lot of manpower in place and they have technology that’s in place, so I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that they’re going to provide a safe environment in Beijing.

What types of security challenges do the games pose for Beijing or any other city that decides to host an Olympics?

The magnitude of the games presents a problem. It’s not a one event competition, there are many events going on at the same time in various places so security isn’t around a stadium or a racetrack, it is around several different venues, 30, 40, 50 different venues going, some of them going on at the same time, not all of them in the same city. You have displaced venues and responsibility goes to various agencies and districts who have responsibility for those venues. There are events across county and states lines, so there’s a coordination of all those law enforcement [agencies] that have to get together and come up with a single plan that works across the board. That’s a heck of a challenge.

How do you coordinate security for such a large number of people with the security forces of other nations?

It’s more about making sure that everyone in our delegation has a clear understanding of the host country that we’re visiting and we have a clear understanding of what they’re procedures are going to be. Because you must comply with their laws, you must comply with their procedures, so it’s a matter of bringing everyone up to date on that particular host country, and it changes. You could go from country to country; what they did in Australia was different from what they did in Athens and what they’re doing in China is different than Athens and Australia. Everyone one of those nations presents a different approach and a different understanding of how they’re going to run the games. Every games is different. That type of information has to flow to our delegation so that they have a clear understanding when they go into the games and go into that particular country to understand the difference of how the security is going to be run.

Does the fact that the U.S. is not a popular nation in some parts of the world affect your job as CSO?

Fortunately we are in sport and in sport it’s about fair play and we try to take that to all of our competitions and keep politics away form the field of play. When you go to something like the Olympics and you’re around all the athletes from all the various countries and you see how they interact with each other, it gives you a warm feeling about possible peace in the world because you see it existing in an Olympic atmosphere. A lot of the conflicts and problem areas throughout the world kind of come to an end at the Olympic Games because, hopefully, it doesn’t cross into sport.

Is there one particular type of terror that is more a concern now than in years past? (i.e. the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, in which gunmen captured and killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team?)

The modus operandi of the terrorists is one that is very difficult to grasp. It changes; the way they’re making their attacks varies so much it’s difficult to understand the mind of a terrorist. When you’re willing to sacrifice your life, that creates a whole different problem than some other issue like kidnapping. When you talk about a person willing to become a bomb, you have to take certain precautions to make sure that type of a person doesn’t enter into the field of play, doesn’t enter into a stadium. Now you begin to get more measures put in place, magnetometers, bag checks and all the other measures that have to be put into place now because we have this new approach we have to look at. That person that walks into a stadium in 95 degree weather with a great big coat on is probably going to attract a lot of attention from others.

Would you say U.S. athletes are a bigger target for terrorists than others?

I don’t think so. Like I say, there has been no direction of interest toward sport. So our athletes are kind of going about their business of competing and I don’t think that fear of terrorism is in the back of their mind, I think that they’re focused on their sport and the competition.

On the web:
U.S. Olympic Committee webpage