Following the Boston Marathon bombings, British officials are reviewing security plans for the London Marathon on Sunday, and also for Wednesday’s funeral for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The Boston bombings occurred just two days before the Thatcher funeral, with dozens of foreign leaders on their way to attend the event. There are plans for a funeral procession through the center of London and a service for more than 2,000 people at St. Paul’s Cathedral, including Queen Elizabeth and her husband and most members of the British government and parliament.
British security consultant David Rubens is not directly involved in the planning, but he knows what top security officials are going through.
“First of all, you really go back and check your intelligence, whether there are any indicators through, for example, communications that there are unknown activists who are identified as potential threats to your operation," Rubens explained. "It is always intelligence-based in the modern world.”
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Thatcher’s death has renewed old but still emotional debates about her time in office in the 1980s, including street protests by groups celebrating her death last week at age 87.
There was a robust security plan for her funeral even before the Boston bombings. And Rubens said there is not much more that can be done in terms of physical security.
“I think really what you do is you increase awareness, rather than any specific security activities," he said. "So it does come down to, I think, human profiling by trained and professional people on the ground, who have got the eyes to potentially detect non-normal behavior, which will indicate a potential attack.”
On Sunday, London hosts its own marathon, another major event on the annual athletics calendar. Race Director Rick Bitel said the race will go on.
“We are continuing to review security with the Metropolitan Police in the coming days," Bitel said. "The London Marathon, in common with most sports events in the world, have got fairly detailed contingency plans, which one hopes could deal with anything that would occur. But, when something of this nature does happen, you obviously want to review them and see whether changes need to be made.”
London security officials got a lot of experience in dealing with large-scale events during last summer’s Olympics, which were widely hailed as a security and sporting success. David Rubens said they understand the balance that must be struck at such events.
“It is very difficult because you always have this balance to be made, the balance between security and safety on one side and open freedom and public access on the other," Rubens said. "And, that is a decision that is made both at a political and a security policing level.”
Rubens also noted that many senior British police officers also experienced the 20 years of bombings by the Irish Republican Army from the 1970s into the 1990s. He said that should help them determine the appropriate level of security for this week’s events.