Memory of Munich hangs over Sochi

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By Nick DAngelo

No Olympic Games in the past 40 years has faced the level of security concerns that have surrounded those in Sochi, Russia. The world will remain on the edge of its seat this week as the games open, not only as it watches nations compete for top honors, but also as it prays for the safety of its global brethren. Adding to the thoughts of horror is the reality that we have been through this type of terror before.

sochiThe year was 1972 when members of a Palestinian terrorist group took nine Israeli athletes hostage in Munich, killing them two days later.

When head of the Israeli delegation Shmuel Lalkin arrived in the Olympic Village weeks before his athletes were due in 1972, he warned West German officials that security was dangerously lax. And while the German authorities assured Lalkin that additional security precautions would be taken, some modern historians assert that this never occurred.

In fact, West Germany is believed to have intentionally scaled down security in order to provide a more welcoming environment to the world community, shedding the harsh image that had existed since Hitler exploited the 1936 Berlin Olympics to showcase Aryan superiority. To promote this new image of openness, police were banned from Olympic sites and in their place were 2,000 unarmed guards in powder blue sports coats.

What transpired next was unimaginable terror. At 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 5, eight terrorist members of the Black September faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization entered the Israeli athletes’ apartment complex, killed two, and took nine more hostage. Over the course of two days, the terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinian and non-Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails, and after several botched rescue plans, all nine hostages were killed on Sept. 6.

The Munich Massacre is not only terrifying because of the acts of terrorism committed, but also because of how the situation was mishandled by Olympic organizers and German national security officials. As organizers planned for security, they enlisted forensic psychologist Georg Sieber to develop 26 terrorism scenarios that should be prepared for and anticipated.

Sieber’s “Situation 21” is chilling in its accuracy: at 5 a.m. one morning, a dozen armed Palestinians would invade the building that housed the Israeli delegation, kill several hostages to enforce discipline, then demand the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails. Even if the Palestinians failed to liberate their comrades, Sieber predicted, they would “turn the Games into a political demonstration” and would be “prepared to die … On no account can they be expected to surrender.”

The organizers never prepared for “Situation 21” because to do so would undermine the “Carefree Games” they had spent years promoting. It would be a decision with enormous consequences, the ramifications of which are still felt over 40  years later.

As athletes from around the world gather in Sochi, only 400 miles away from the site of several recent terrorist attacks, Munich should be an ever-present memory. Like West Germany in 1972, the Russian Federation is utilizing the Olympics to repair a tarnished image. This will be the first Olympic Games held in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It may allow the country to move past its harsh history and develop closer relations with a world community that has often left it isolated. Moreover, like Munich, there have been multiple threats of an Olympic spectacle. Threats on Sochi have come from Chechen terrorist groups and Circassian nationalists, both of which blame Russia for a myriad of nineteenth- and twentieth-century atrocities.

But it is also important to remember that 2014 is not 1972. In 1972, counter-terrorism task forces were absent from most government national security teams. In a post-9/11 world, nothing is taken for granted and precautions like Sieber’s “Situation 21” are diligently analyzed.

Since Jan. 7, various Olympic zones have been locked down and, unlike Munich, 40,000 law enforcement officials will be present during the Games. Russia has spent more funding on this Olympics than the past 21 combined. And for good reason: there has never been an Olympic Games threatened in the ways that Sochi has been.

Facing her own assassination attempt in October 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared, “All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.” The political demonstrations orchestrated by terrorists around the world through threats to human life is nothing short of calculated evil. Tomorrow, our thoughts and prayers will be focused on the safety of those in Sochi as the world community one again unites.

 

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