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Olympics intelligence officers 'in a tough spot': Games security boss

Intelligence officers that approach and question anti-Olympics critics play a vital but thankless role, the head of 2010 Games security forces suggested today.

“I hope you’d agree with me they’re in a tough spot,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer told reporters. “If they approach people at home, that’s construed to be wrong. If they approach them on the street, that’s construed to be harassment. If they phone them, it’s ‘how did they get the phone number?’ If they do it at work, ‘that’s not fair.’”

Last week, the Tyee reported that intelligence officers with the RCMP-led Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU) approached a student friend of vocal Olympics critic Chris Shaw.

The controversy gained momentum when New Democratic Party Attorney General critic Leonard Krog criticized the visit in the legislature.

The $900 million ISU has been accused of visiting dozens of activists – and their acquaintances – critical of the Games.

Mercer stressed these visits help gather information about possible Olympics threats. And he said there’s always a reason for approaching a specific person.

“[Intelligence officers] don’t wake up in the morning, check a phone book and flip the pages blind fold and pick a few names and decide those are the people we’re going to talk to today,” he said.

In some cases, officers decided certain people weren’t a threat to the Games after talking with them, Mercer said.

But it’s essential security forces assess all risks – because the ISU has information that a small group of people intend to wage criminal or violent protests, he added.

Mercer’s remarks came while briefing reporters on a large-scale security exercise that runs Oct 19-23. Pegasus Guardian 3/Spartan Rings will test the preparedness of police and Canadian Forces for a wide range of potential threats.

Mercer said he doesn’t know what kind of training scenarios will be hoisted on the ISU next week. But he made reference to the fatal 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics and the kidnapping of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Games.

He also confirmed criminal protests, which could include vandalism, assault and trespassing, will be part of the exercise.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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