Brazilian Organization for Combating Terrorism during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games

By Visacro, Col Alessandro | Military Review, September/October 2017 | Go to article overview

Brazilian Organization for Combating Terrorism during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games


Visacro, Col Alessandro, Military Review


Major international public events, by their very nature, combine extreme vulnerability with extensive media exposure. These factors alone are enough to create favorable conditions for the convergence of a number of normally diffuse threats- primarily nonstate actors operating domestically and transnationally, ranging from what are known in Brazil as antisystemic movements (groups opposing established power structures) to extremist organizations (such as supporters of the Islamic State).1 Such scenarios are attractive to neoanarchists, revolutionaries, criminals, and terrorists who are willing to exploit state weaknesses in the physical and informational domains.

Even in a context where institutions are functioning normally, events of great magnitude pose a complex security challenge, invariably requiring capabilities that are available in the armed forces. For this reason, military forces have been used recurrently throughout the world to ensure a safe and peaceful environment- without them, it would be impossible to hold a major event under the auspices of the state.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the subsequent Paralympic Games ended a long cycle comprising eight major events hosted in Brazil.2 Over the course of nine years marked by a continual process of improvement, Brazil's Ministry of Defense helped provide protection and security, and it was responsible for the joint efforts of the armed forces, in close collaboration with civil agencies, intelligence organizations, and law enforcement. It achieved extraordinary success, especially considering the magnitude of the challenges faced by the Brazilian government since 2007, year of the XV Pan American Games. Although the Ministry of Defense's involvement rightfully did not bring it any prominence or monopoly over the management of security, the armed forces' vast set of capabilities made them an actor of notable importance, even with their diligent attempts at discretion.

Because of the nation's particularities, the context in which the Brazilian armed forces were employed may be considered unique. Even so, the situation offers insights about the use of the military in a postindustrial age characterized, above all, by the prevalence of nonstate armed violence. Several fundamental characteristics- such as the ubiquity of the media, harsh public criticism, severe legal constraints, besiegement by human rights organizations, the interagency environment, and even the deployment of troops within the confines of the national territory-create a scenario that is incongruous with the one idealized by traditional armies in a Westphalian order.

In view of the foregoing, Brazil's recent experience deserves to be considered as an interesting source of study. In order to share some of the lessons learned and best practices, this article presents a brief analysis of security provisions during the 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, focusing primarily on combating terrorism-a topic that, due to its sensitive character and growing importance, has demanded increasing engagement by the military.

Complexity, Vulnerabilities, and Great Apprehension

Even considering the magnitude of previous major events, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games stood out. Altogether, there were thirty days of competition events that demanded a herculean effort from eightyeight thousand civilians and service members involved in a robust security structure.3

Approximately eleven thousand athletes from more than two hundred countries brought roughly half a million tourists to the city of Rio de Janeiro during the games.4 Twenty-five thousand accredited journalists from around the world reached an estimated one billion spectators with their continuous broadcasts.5

The athletic events took place in thirty-two venues, distributed into four clusters around the city. At the opening ceremony alone, 5 August 2016, there were approximately eighty thousand people in Maracanã Stadium, as well as forty foreign leaders. …

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