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Rufus Watches Over Olympics Like A Hawk


The Olympic Games are now just over three weeks away. NPR's Philip Reeves is tracking preparations. He brings us his latest letter from London.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: So it's true then. Surface-to-air missiles really will be stationed on London's rooftops during the Olympic Games.

Officials have been chewing over this idea for months. Yesterday, Britain's Defense Ministry announced the government's finally made up its mind. Batteries of Rapier and Starstreak missiles will be ready to repel attacks against the Olympic Park. They'll stand guard at six sites.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: What do we want? Missiles out. When do we want it? Now. What do we want?

REEVES: Some London residents aren't at all happy. Over recent weeks they've signed petitions and paraded through the streets, singing their own protest song.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Join us in protest against the missile threat. We'll fight for people's freedom till their needs are met.

REEVES: Chris Nineham, a leading protestor, says he's disappointed and angered by the government's decision.

CHRIS NINEHAM: We've been completely ignored and I think that's what' people feel. And I think people feel very, very nervous about it as well, because it is genuinely frightening.

REEVES: Next week, a group of Londoners is going to court to try to stop missiles being placed on top of their apartment block.

This is hard to visualize, isn't it. Missile batteries in a crowded modern city, in peacetime. They're just one element in an elaborate plan to protect the Olympics, says Tobias Feakin of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.

TOBIAS FEAKIN: This is the largest single security operation that the U.K. has undertaken since World War II.

REEVES: The British government says there's no actual reported threat against the games. Some of its critics suspect it's exploiting the Olympics to advertise its military wares.

But everyone knows Olympics Games have been attacked before. You just can't be too careful, say officials. So fighter jets will be on stand-by. There'll be tens of thousands of police, soldiers and private security guards, a vast array of closed circuit TV cameras, and in the River Thames a big warship.

FEAKIN: You will see HMS Ocean, which is currently the Navy's largest vessel. It will be moored just off of Greenwich. It offers a particular capability, a large number of helicopters to be able to distribute troops as required. It will also be the base for the Marines whilst they are deployed for the games.

REEVES: If you're coming to London and find all this a little worrying, it's worth bearing a couple of things in mind. Average out the number of deaths caused annually by what might be described as terrorism in England this century and you arrive at the figure five. That's the same as the number killed here each year by wasps, hornets and bees.

Also, says Feakin, the biggest security threat to the games is not terrorism but street crime.

FEAKIN: Pick-pocketing, muggings, theft, that kind of thing, and that's been proven through research into previous games. It's always come out as the number one threat and risk.

REEVES: There's another lethal weapon that'll be out there patrolling the Olympics. His name is Rufus.

IMOGEN DAVIS: Rufus is an American Harris Hawk.

REEVES: That's Rufus, the Hawk's owner, Imogen Davis.

DAVIS: He'll be at the tennis event of the Olympics. And he will be there, present, scaring the pigeons.

REEVES: The Olympic tennis will be at Wimbledon, where the world-famous championship is going on right now.

London has a vast number of pigeons. Hawks are often used to stop them messing up the city. Rufus is working at Wimbledon at the moment, making sure pigeons don't get in the way of play. The other day, while he was in a car, he was stolen. Several days later, after police made a public appeal, he was returned.

DAVIS: Oh, when we managed to get him back, we were just completely overjoyed and so happy and relieved.

REEVES: Let's hope the same fate doesn't befall those rooftop missiles.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.


WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.