Security partnerships a key element for Paris Olympics

May 14, 2024
The motto “faster, higher, stronger” starkly describes the security preparations required of France, its allies, and corporate sponsors for the July-August Summer Olympics. Weary citizens of the world need feats of extraordinary athletic ability, not a global flashpoint.

The motto “faster, higher, stronger” starkly describes the security preparations required of France, its allies, and corporate sponsors for the July-August Summer Olympics. Weary citizens of the world need feats of extraordinary athletic ability, not a global flashpoint.

Eerily reminiscent of World War I, France finds itself on the frontlines. The French stand resolutely by Ukraine against Russian aggression. With Europe’s largest Jewish population, France steadfastly supports Israel in a conflict that resonates divisively in Paris banlieues, home to large Muslim immigrant communities. And in the wake of coups across francophone Africa, France’s unceremonious withdrawal of counterterrorism forces from the Sahel created a worrisome security void.

Geopolitics have marred past Olympics, but this time feels different. France plays a prominent role in hot wars in Africa, Asia and Europe, and is closely aligned with countries, in particular the United States, which will have a major presence at the Games. If an attack – terrorist, cyber, or domestic – against the Olympics happens, a world teetering on the balance beam could easily lose its equilibrium.

Threats to the Paris Games are manifold. First, Moscow and other malign actors will sponsor cyber and disinformation campaigns to discredit France, participant nations and sponsors. 

If an attack – terrorist, cyber, or domestic – against the Olympics happens, a world teetering on the balance beam could easily lose its equilibrium.

Second, domestic violent extremists, whether organized groups or lone wolves, will engage in violent unrest or acts to draw attention to racist, xenophobic and anarchic causes. Third, organized terror groups or religiously motivated individuals will see an opportunity to exact revenge and advance their goals.

France will deploy 15,000 soldiers, artificial intelligence, drones and counter-drones, and airborne surveillance to safeguard its estimated eight-billion-euro investment. 

Since a spate of gruesome terrorist attacks 2015, France’s Coordinator for National Intelligence and Counterterrorism has better integrated the French intelligence community. Early 2024 leadership changes atop France’s domestic and foreign intelligence services and a recent decision to raise its terrorist alert level highlight Paris’ keen focus on Olympics security. 

France’s security partners will be critical. Western intelligence services will work overtime to disrupt Russian planning to message about Ukraine. European Union interior ministries will monitor racially and religiously motivated violent extremists and terror groups. The U.S. will have its oldest ally’s back, tracking Iran and its proxies and maintaining vigilance on ISIS and jihadists’ reanimation.

But it can’t just be France and its allies reassuring citizens of the world. Corporate sponsors and participant nations must update their playbooks to identify, share, disseminate and preempt threats to this event as soon, best, and broadly as possible: 

Public-private partnerships. The U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council has long promoted cooperation with the private-sector security community. Since 9/11, the U.S. surged intelligence resources to safeguard U.S. interests at strategic events. These are examples of liaison for all participant nations and businesses to emulate.

Business intelligence and resilience. Corporations should monitor exposure, default internally to the widest information-sharing model possible, establish channels to access available government information, and constantly pressure test security plans against changing threats and expected governmental response capabilities. 

Sharing cyber security information. The U.S. has greatly improved cyber threat information sharing within the defense industrial base and the nation’s critical infrastructure. Private corporations, however, continue to resist broader sharing, often concerned about losing competitive edges and stockholder confidence. Business leadership should take a hands-on approach to share as widely as possible information on ransomware, malware, and cyberattacks. 

Incentives for information. The U.S. has successfully used the Rewards for Justice Program to generate useful leads to protect the homeland and disrupt bad actors. The program has expanded from counterterrorism to foreign interference, sanctions evasion, and malicious cyber activity. Each participant nation would be wise to establish an Olympics-specific incentive program.

Strategic declassification of intelligence. The U.S. has deftly pioneered “the intentional public disclosure of certain secrets to undercut rivals and rally allies.” Every nation sending athletes to Paris should review intelligence and analyze trends which could be leveraged to identify and preempt malicious planning and disinformation.

Duty to warn. Some governments, including the U.S., have an obligation to share threat information against specific persons and venues. A clear International Olympics Committee policy, including penalties, concerning the responsibility of participant nations, sponsors, and vendors would help spur forewarning of threats.  

Now is the time for all of us to heed Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman himself and the founder of the modern Olympics: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

About the Author: Theodore J. Singer retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2023, serving in the U.S. Government for 35 years and five times as Chief of Station in the Middle East and Europe. He consults for Rebel Global Security and is a senior advisor at The Chertoff Group.