2012 Games have 'severe' terror threat

LONDON -- Britain's national terror threat will remain at a severe level during the 2012 London Olympics, the country's national counterterrorism minister said Thursday.

The current threat was raised to the second highest classification in January, meaning an attack is highly likely in Britain.

To test the country's preparedness to cope with a major incident, a series of national counterterrorism simulations will be conducted in the run-up to the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012.

"We must work on the assumption that [the threat] will remain as it is," counterterrorism and security minister Pauline Neville-Jones told an Olympic security conference. "A rigorous testing and exercising program is about to start involving all levels of management and responsible parts of government."

There are expected to be 9,000 police officers protecting London each day of the Olympics and securing the transport network. Neville-Jones, a former head of Britain's MI5 domestic spy agency, said that will be "one of the greatest challenges."

The day after London was awarded the Olympics in 2005, suicide bombers targeted the British capital's transit network, killing 52 people.

London's Metropolitan Police is also "looking to see what we would do if [the threat] moved to critical," assistant commissioner Chris Allison later told delegates.

"We have to be aware that the terrorist threat may be there, but the impact of the last couple of weeks [with student protests sparking minor riots in London] is a timely reminder that we also have to be ready for public disorder," Allison said.

Another area of concern is cyber crime. The 2008 Beijing Games were hit by 12 million cyber attacks per day, according to British government statistics.

"The games unavoidably are an attractive cyber target," Neville-Jones said. "What we have got to ensure is that it is not extraordinarily a soft target ... cyber threats may come from a number of sources.

"Currently the most likely threat is cyber-enabled ticketing fraud, and work is already under way to protect against this."

However, the government is still planning to announce how it will find savings in the nearly $950 million core security budget for the Olympics. The coalition government, which came to power in May, is imposing major cuts across all departments as it attempts to erase the country's national debt.

"I am in no doubt that efficiency savings can and should be made," Neville-Jones said. "[But] we will not countenance unacceptable levels of risk and this will be reflected in the funding."