Various: Cabinet documents 2000 / Sydney 2000 Olympics

The Guardian – Australia’s security fears in 2000 focused on hostage taking at Sydney Olympics, cabinet papers show

AAP: Sydney 2000 Olympics held without a hitch

Security measures were great ahead of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, but there were no major breaches.

It was among the highlights of 2000: Australia’s cracking Olympic Games, attracting global praise and recognition and a record medal tally.

Who could forget Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400-metres sprint?

Despite concerns that violent extremists could use the Games and the global media attention to showcase their cause, as occurred at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and at Atlanta in 1996, there were no incidents.

Preparations for the Games started immediately after the 1993 announcement that Sydney would host the millennium event.

Although the NSW government was the principle organiser, the federal government had major responsibilities.

Cabinet documents for 2000 – released by the National Archives of Australia – reveal a succession of decisions, particularly relating to security.

As the Games approached, the Commonwealth believed it was as ready as it could be.

“The security issues that could arise during the 2000 Olympics and the appropriate responses to them are now well understood as a result of a series of national exercises that culminated in Exercise Ring True in May 2000,” Attorney General Daryl Williams said in a submission to cabinet in late August.

“Ring True was reassuring. A key issue in the unlikely event of a serious emergency will be coordination between the states, particularly NSW and the Commonwealth.”

Ring True was a multi-agency exercise featuring the defence force, federal and state police and other agencies held at locations around NSW in preparation for the Olympics.

In April, the national security committee of cabinet endorsed Commonwealth counter-terrorism policies and some key principles – the civil power retained primacy, all actions needed to be conducted within the law and there would be no major concessions to terrorists.

However police commanders dealing with a stand off could grant minor concessions, such as food and medical support, in return for tactical advantages.

Lethal force would only be employed as a last resort.

“In so doing, notwithstanding the primary objective of resolving an incident peacefully, there may be no alternative but to use force,” Mr Williams said in his submission to cabinet.

He said many of the issues raised in Ring True had been addressed by legislation facilitating a call out of the defence force in response to a formal state request, conferring clear powers on defence members.

As it turned out, there was no need. The Sydney 2000 Olympics are remembered for their overwhelming goodwill and for Australia’s best-ever haul of 58 medals.

Australia’s outstanding performance in 2000 stemmed from multiple factors, including extensive Commonwealth support for elite sports.

But funding for the Olympic Athlete Program was to conclude at the end of the year and even before the Games were held. Sports Minister Jackie Kelly was considering what could follow to support elite sports, make sports self-sustaining and deliver a more healthy community.

Alas, Australia’s performance at Sydney 2000 remains the nation’s Games high point and it’s been downhill since, with 50 medals in Athens, 46 in Beijing, 35 in London and 28 in Rio.

The Canberra Times: Cabinet documents 2000: Sydney Olympics ‘well-placed’ for terrorism, violent attacks

Australian federal and state authorities felt they were “well-placed” to handle terrorist incidents at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after conducting a number of simulated siege and chemical attacks, newly-released cabinet documents reveal.

The Sydney Olympics, held in September of 2000, were considered a resounding success on the world stage but behind the scenes, cabinet documents from the Howard government released Friday, show officials were worried about the possibility of violent public attacks.

The war on terror had not yet been waged by the United States and its allies in the wake of the September 11 attacks but the threat of terrorism was something cabinet’s National Security Committee was giving great consideration to.

Former deputy prime minister at the time John Anderson said at the release of the documents surveillance efforts were “quite deep” during the lead-up to the event.

“The surveillance, I have to tell you, was quite deep at the time as we tried to identify those who might want to make trouble building largely on what had been learned out of Atlanta,” Mr Anderson said.

“Nonetheless, [the efforts] went very well.”

Australia’s domestic spy agency, ASIO, told the committee the greatest harm to the Games would come from a terrorist incident as had happened in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The agency added United States, Israel and Turkey were most at risk.

To prepare for the threat, three simulated exercises were conducted during 1999 and 2000 to test how Australia’s security and intelligence agencies would fare.

The first two, held in mid and late-1999, involved an aviation hijacking and a maritime siege on Sydney Harbour.

The final one, Ring True, was held over two days in May 2000 in Sydney’s Homebush and Canberra’s Bruce Stadium. Sydney’s mock incident involved a chemical attack and required cooperation between state and Commonwealth authorities while the hostage operation in Canberra was handled by the Australian Federal Police.

After all three operations had been undertaken, the final verdict suggested security agencies were “well-placed” to handle any incidents but noted there were communication and jurisdictional problems between state and federal teams. New South Wales Police, for example, were unable to successfully confirm the nationalities of hostages.

Ultimately, that assessment was never tested and the games went ahead without any violent attacks.

 The 2000 Sydney Olympics went ahead without incident but behind the scenes, authorities were concnered of terrorist attacks. Image: National Archives of Australia

Foreign countries concerned over security requested bringing and carrying their own firearms into Australia in order to protect their entourages, cabinet minutes also show.

In one example, the United States requested a weapons exemption for personnel tasked with protecting the US president’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, along with other dignitaries.

Cabinet denied the requests, worrying an exemption for one country would result in pressure from other nations wanting the same.

“It was a very difficult debate around the table,” Mr Anderson said, reflecting on discussions between the allies over the request.

“I can only say that it was met with benign silence but I suspect that [the decision to reject the United States’ exemption request] was resented.”

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