UK ponders missile defense for London 2012 Olympics

LONDON Mon Nov 14, 2011 2:57pm EST

Commuters walk past the Olympic Rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games, at St Pancras international station in London March 3, 2011.   REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Commuters walk past the Olympic Rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games, at St Pancras international station in London March 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Eddie Keogh

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is ready to use missiles to protect next year's London Olympics from an airborne attack, Defense Minister Philip Hammond said on Monday, amid reports the United States was unhappy with security plans for the games.

"All necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of the London Olympic Games will be taken including, if the advice of the military is that it is required, appropriate ground-to-air defenses," Hammond told parliament.

It would be the first time surface-to-air missiles have been deployed in Britain since the end of the Second World War, a defense ministry spokesman said, adding that no decisions had been made yet.

Hammond's announcement came as the Guardian newspaper reported the United States was concerned about security at the games and planned to send up to 1,000 of its agents, including 500 from the FBI, to protect American contestants and diplomats.

London's Olympic security coordinator Chris Allison dismissed the report, saying he was about to fly to Washington in a prearranged trip to give an update on planning for next summer's event.

"We're not hearing any concerns being expressed from them at all," he told BBC radio, adding that there would only be a small number of foreign security liaison officers at the games.

A decision to install air defense weaponry in London would follow a precedent set by previous Olympic hosts. China deployed a battery of surface-to-air missiles a kilometer south of its showpiece venues for the Beijing games in 2008.

Greece placed dozens of U.S.-made Patriot missiles around Athens around six weeks before the 2004 Olympics, the first summer games after the September 2001 attacks on the United States.

One option for providing surface-to-air defense in London could include stationing one of Britain's new missile-equipped Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers in the River Thames estuary near the games, the defense ministry spokesman said.

Another choice would be to use the British Army's land-based Rapier surface-to-air missile launcher.

More than 6,000 British soldiers dressed as civilian security guards are expected to boost security at London's Olympic venues, a source told Reuters earlier this month, supplementing force of at least 10,000 civilian guards and 12,000 police.

Britain remains on high alert for a terrorist attack despite its international threat level being lowered from severe to substantial, the third-highest level, meaning an attack is a strong possibility and could occur without warning.

The country has been a terrorist target for many years, with its role in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a leading U.S. ally, increasing the threat from Islamist militants.

Four young British Islamists killed 52 commuters in suicide bomb attacks on London's transport network in July 2005, the day after the capital was awarded the 2012 games.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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