The Rio Olympics Are A High-Tech Police State

Some Olympic venues are plagued with problems, but the police and military have all the highest-tech gadgetry

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Jun 13, 2016 at 3:39 PM ET

Doubts remain whether this summer’s Olympic Games will have a cycling venue, as the velodrome has been beset by one delay after another. An elevated bicycle path constructed concurrently with Rio de Janeiro’s work for the Games collapsed in April, killing two. “Super bacteria” has been found off the beaches endangering some swimming, rowing, and canoe events. Brazilian investigators are looking into possible corruption with contracts related to the Olympics. And, of course, there’s Zika.

While the Rio Games have been bogged down by all the bad publicity about bungled projects and health concerns—not to mention the country’s impeached president—there is one area of Olympic preparation that seems to be going according to plan: high-tech military-style surveillance.

Brazil got a head start on this front, having hosted the 2014 World Cup and monitored security concerns with a 56-screen, 300-agent National Integrated Command and Control Center. There were facial-recognition goggles, surveillance drones, fighter jets, and 170,000 security personnel.

The World Cup, however, sported a comparatively paltry 860-athlete contingent, compared to the 10,000 expected for the Olympics. For this event, the Integrated Command and Regional Control Center in Rio will have 98 55-inch LED TVs—that’s 127,008 square-inches of television—not to mention a crisis management center, heliport, and representatives from a veritable Portuguese alphabet soup of police and military agencies. The Olympics are at least based in one city, not 12 like the World Cup, so “only” 85,000 police officers and soldiers are expected to be in use or in reserve; that number is more than double how many were in use during the 2012 Games.

Not everything is perfectly on track, however: Colonel Adilson Moreira, security commander for the games, resigned nearly three months ago. The Brazilian government slashed the security budget by about $550 million in March. And, in April, a suspected Islamic State member made a threat against Brazil.

Should any security issues arise when the Games begin in August, Rio appears prepared with the necessary man- and computer-power to defend against them. The actual competitions, on the other hand, may still be wanting.