Threat Intelligence Blog

Posted June 3, 2015



Author: Hans Mathias Moeller

The following blog post is an excerpt from our upcoming special report, Toronto Pan American Games 2015: Assessment of the Physical Threat Environment. This report will examine the risks from protests, social unrest, natural hazards, terrorism and other potential threats to the Games.

The Pan American Games (Pan Am Games), which take place July 10 – 26 in Toronto, Canada, will draw more than 500,000 spectators, as well as an estimated 10,000 athletes from Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, and North America. It is the third largest international sports competition after the summer Olympics and Asian Games.

As with any large event, the organizers are preparing for potential risks to attendees and participants. Despite this, concerns remain over costs, traffic and security. For example, in February authorities discovered a secret tunnel 10 feet underground close to the site of one of the venues for the games. While there was no immediate evidence of a threat, whoever dug the tunnel had taken precautions to conceal it, police said.

The most serious physical threat to Canada in the short- and medium-term, and potentially the Games, will likely originate from homegrown terrorists with links to international terrorist networks based in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. This assertion is based on audio and video statements by terrorist networks calling for attacks inside Canada, recent attempted attacks against financial and public transportation targets in Toronto, the possible return to Canada by individuals who received overseas military training by terrorist networks, as well as the October 2014 shooting at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, which was inspired by religious extremists’ ideology.

How Vulnerable are the Games to Terrorist Attacks?

The Pan Am Games is an attractive target for terrorist networks, as the event is highly visible and will receive media coverage from at least 40 participating countries and territories. An attack during the Games would garner immediate global media attention and magnify the terrorists’ message to both a domestic and international audience. Media attention plays a pivotal role in terrorists’ strategy to maximize publicity for their cause, spread fear and anxiety beyond the immediate victims of their attacks, and pressure decision makers to concede to their demands.

While the probability of a domestic terrorist attack is much lower, there are indications that radical environmentalists are willing to resort to violent tactics over the expansion of oil and gas pipelines. Despite this, the odds of civilian causalities and mass destruction from domestic terrorist attacks during the Pan Am Games are low. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are also counterproductive, as they would alienate supporters and legitimate a government crackdown. Environmental radicals are more likely to stage dynamic and/or static demonstrations during the Pan Am Games to draw media attention to their cause; however, radical environmentalists have traditionally attacked economic targets in British Columbia and New Brunswick.

The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario has invested in vast defensive measures around high profile sites to deter attacks during the games; however, as a target hardens, the result is often target transference. This is when an attacker shifts focus to targets with lower security barriers that require fewer operational capabilities and guarantee higher operational success. Target selection for maximum impact includes confined places where people congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, stores, and malls.

Toronto is a target rich environment and presents Canadian authorities with a significant challenge since they cannot provide 24/7 security for the more than 50 sporting events – with an estimated 500,000 tourists – occurring over the two week Pan Am Games time period. The costs are simply too high.

Security professionals who are responsible for the safety of executives, employees, and other individuals who are sponsoring or attending the Pan Am Games should take precautions accordingly.

Contact us to request a copy of the full report, or learn more about our Executive Security Solutions to help physical security, protection, and investigation professionals detect and assess threats to high-profile public or private individuals.

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