With the recent G4S security recruitment debacle and the heightened threat of terrorist attack much has been made of the security preparations for the London Olympics. Security at the games has been a major concern since the dark days of the Munich Olympics in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September Movement killed eleven members of the Israeli delegation and a policeman in the disastrous rescue attempt. This incident demonstrated the inadequacies of the Germans ability to combat domestic terror, resulting in the formation of their own federal counter terrorist unit, GSG 9. It was a wake-up call, causing most Western nations to evaluate and develop a much improved counter terrorist capability and preceded a wave of bombings, hijackings and other incidents that earmarked the 1970’s.
Australia was slow to develop the CT response beyond that of the various State police SWAT type teams and it wasn’t until the Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney in 1978 that the Federal Government decided to act. The responsibility was passed to the Special Air Service Regiment, which developed the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) as part of the Regiment’s roles and tasks. The role of TAG was filled by engaging one of the sabre squadrons and incorporated signals troop from 152 Signal Squadron as the Counter Terrorist (CT) squadron for a twelve month period as part of the regiment’s training and operations cycle. During the relatively quiet 1980’s and for much of the 1990’s being ‘on Team’ with the CT Squadron was one of the roles relished by many in the Regiment as other operational deployments seemed unlikely, with only a handful of soldiers from the unit being committed in support of UN operations. I recall the excitement expressed by many of my mates in 2 Sqn back in 1993 when we found out that Sydney would be hosting the Olympics in 2000. The regiments cycle meant that it would be 2 Squadron holding the CT role in 2000 and at the time, in the days before Timor and subsequent jobs, it was something to look forward to.
Very soon after the announcement by the IOC, the Australian Federal Government recognised that the security of the games would be beyond the resources of the host jurisdiction (New South Wales) and would require pooling of resources from other organisations including the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The ADF support to the Olympics was named Operation GOLD and commenced in 1998. Op GOLD employed 5622 ADF personnel in a variety of security and non-security roles. These were broken down into two joint task forces (JTF). The larger of these was JTF 112, which contained the bulk of the ADF commitment and was responsible for a wide range of support including transport and general security. It was the public face of the ADF commitment with uniformed service personnel wearing the round white Op Gold patch being seen at the various Olympic venues and activities.
But, watching from the shadows was the second task force, JTF 114 commanded by Brigadier Phil McNamara, Commander Special Forces. JTF 114 was the principal CT capability provided by 2 SAS Sqn, which along with Black Hawk helicopters from 5 Aviation Regiment and a response company from 4 RAR (Commando) who would be used to provide a cordon around any incident site. Together these units formed the TAG and were known as JTF 643 and optimised for CT coverage of the Sydney area during the games.
JTF 114 preparation for the Olympics had begun well in advance of the game and six months before the opening ceremony, the CT squadron moved to Holsworthy barracks on the outskirts of Sydney to commence the final build up. Special training facilities were constructed in Holsworthy; at the Naval base HMAS Waterhen on the shores of Sydney harbour and another for launching SUR operations out to sea. The TAG refining their ‘ship underway’ drills, familiarised themselves with potential targets and conducting a variety of exercises based on Olympic venues and events. During the two weeks of the games, the SAS soldiers had full accreditation, with unrestricted access to all areas, allowing them to gain ‘situational awareness’ by moving discretely through the various venues and events as the games unfolded.
The Sydney Olympics concluded without major incident and had been a valuable operation for the SASR and Special Operations Command. A new skill set was developed based on hostage rescue scenarios within a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons (CBR) threat environment. This resulted in the formation of a Joint Incident Response Unit (JIRU) to combat a CBR or ‘dirty bomb’ threat. JIRU became part of Special Operations Command and eventually evolved into the Special Operations Engineer Regiment. It was also recognised that a second CT capability would be needed to deal with incidents elsewhere, possibly even overseas. During the Olympics this role was performed by 3 SAS Squadron (JTF 644) located in Swanbourne and eventually assumed by 4 RAR (Commando), now redesignated 2 Commando Regiment who now hold full responsibility for the east coast CT responsibility in the form of TAG-E.