Olympic security protocols tested

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The Independent Online

Blackhawk helicopters carrying elite Special Air Services regiment troops hovered menacingly overhead while Navy divers were at work underwater checking the hull of a suspect vessel for explosives.

But it was Max the sniffer dog, a two-year Army veteran, who located the bomb above deck - just to show Australia's Olympic security taskforce has all its bases covered - and an explosives disposal expert diffused it, thus averting a full-scale emergency.

New South Wales state police and the Australian Defense Force launched the joint taskforce Operation Golden Flame counter-terrorism program Friday with a mock terrorist situation at the Navy's HMAS Penguin base on Sydney Harbor.

Sydney has never been the target of a major terrorist attack and security experts say there's no reason to suggest Australia's biggest city is under imminent threat.

However, Olympic Security Command Center chief Paul McKinnon says his force was prepared to combat anything.

"There's no specific threat to the Games but it's just common sense, you need to be prepared to counteract as many contingencies as possible so you're ready to go should the need arise," he said.

McKinnon, a New South Wales police commander, said the combined training exercises had covered the full range of contingencies in the buildup to the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Olympics.

Operation Golden Flame was an ongoing and very public exercise designed to harmonize links between military, police and other state and federal agencies, demonstrate capability and "act as a deterrent to anyone imagining an attack on our security system," he said.

"If we had to go now, we would be ready for anything," said Brig. Gary Byles, the Australian Defense Force joint taskforce commander. "There is a total defense force commitment here to enforce security at the Games."

The SAS, Australia's crack commando corps, were involved at the highest level, working alongside elite police units and operatives from the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency, the equivalent of the CIA in the United States.

The overall security program, Operation Gold, will encompass about 35,000 people, including 4,000 military personnel. Up to 1,000 personnel would be detailed to anti-terrorism assignments.

Meanwhile, new legislation targeting acts of terrorism would be introduced to the New South Wales state Parliament, the state's Attorney-General, Jeff Shaw, said Friday.

Under the legislation, acts of destruction to government premises, infrastructure, public places or sporting facilities would carry a 25-year jail term, Shaw said.

He denied the laws were being rushed through before the Olympics, saying the legislation would fill gaps in the existing Crimes Act which were deficient in addressing terrorist and sabotage offenses.