FIFA World Cup 2014: Brazil Spends Almost $1B on High Tech Security, 'RoboCop'-Style Armored Police
If you're in Rio catching the FIFA World Cup 2014, you might see some futuristic looking riot police clad in black armor resembling the titular character from the "RoboCop" reboot, along with gas masks that look like Darth Vader. That's just a sample of the massive buildup of 21st century military tech meant to secure visitors and "pacify" impoverished Brazilians, fed up with the country's massive spending on international sporting events.
Speaking of massive spending, so far, according to the think tank New America Foundation and other independent reports, Brazil has spent between $850 and $900 million on any number of cutting-edge security technologies, including riot-control armor, surveillance systems, command centers, drones, military deployments, and at least 150,000 police officers patrolling the streets of host cities.
That all leads to Brazil becoming a strange place to visit, according to on-the-ground reports — a mix of soccer mania, exotic vistas, and a veritable police state — like the sight of tourists enjoying Ipanema beach while a Brazilian Navy ship lingers in the background, seemingly ready to shell anything that may come avalanching from the favelas up the hills.
What security technology is worth almost a billion dollar investment? Apparently, several different futuristic systems for surveillance, anti-terrorism, and crowd control that make Brazil look more like the dystopian sci-fi film "Brazil" than the samba capital of the world.
— Jason Bermas (@JasonBermas) May 15, 2014
Brazilian Special Police: "RoboCop" Mixed With Darth Vader
The most visible example for visitors and the world is of course the new "RoboCop"-style suits of armor worn by a special unit of the Brazilian military police, the Major Events Police Battalion (BPGE). According to the U.K.'s Telegraph, these police special forces were created after the huge demonstrations that arose during Brazil's hosting the Confederations Cup in 2013, according to Brazil's state secretary for security Jose Mariano Beltrame, because of "the need to give the military police specialized, efficient and intelligent instruments for patrolling, aimed at the preservation of public order in public places where there is the presence of a crowd of people gathered together."
There are 200 sets of 22-pound protective armor for the BPGE, which includes a protection for the back, chest, and shoulders, along with a pistol, special gun loader, stun gun, handcuffs, and a baton — and the armor is rated for flame resistance up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, just for good measure. Also, underneath the plastic that covers the back and the chest, there's yet another protective layer that absorbs and spreads the force of blows.
Brazilian police also have gas masks actually inspired by "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader that protects against gas, withstands higher temperatures than even the RoboCop suits (up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit), and has an internal hydration tube and air cleaner, which can be hooked up to an external oxygen source. The masks are reportedly designed "to provoke a psychological effect on the protestors or other citizens," which seems to be the larger aim of all of Brazil's police equipment and actions.
A number of military police in Brazil will also be outfitted with "smart glasses" — not for browsing the Internet or finding directions — but for capturing and scanning up to 400 facial images per second from miles away. According to the Telegraph, the glasses are fitted with a small camera that sends images to a central computer database (more on that later), which can compare biometric data for 46,000 points on a face and send back alerts if known criminals are spotted. This particularly Orwellian RoboCop-style technology has been in the planning for Brazil since 2011.
World Cup 2014: A World Security Affair
Behind the front lines of riot control, Brazil has amassed quite a multi-national security tech arsenal befitting of a world event. It purchased 50 bomb disposal "PackBot" robots that the U.S. military used in Afghanistan and has Israeli and U.S.-made drones, some outfitted with 10 high-definition cameras, patrolling the skies.
Then there are the X-Ray inspection machines from a Chinese company called Nuctech, which will provide a total of around 600 pieces of equipment to various Brazilian World Cup stadiums, and the U.K.-made mobile scanner that uses high-frequency radio waves to scan for non-metal weapons (like a 3D-printed plastic gun) hidden under clothing.
Rio's Surveillance Command Center: NSA Would Be Proud
After historically disastrous mudslides in the summer of 2010 showed how ill-prepared Rio de Janeiro's emergency services were for major crises, Rio's government created a kind of next-generation urban command center called the Centro de Operações Preifetura do Rio de Janeiro or COR, according to The Guardian. COR brought 30 departments of Rio's government, from sanitaiton to emergency services, together in a single room that looks like Bond villain Elliot Carver's secret lair.
The command center brings in utility information in status grids, street maps, satellite images, live weather reports, and, of course, live feeds from traffic cameras and a portion of the 3,000 total closed circuit surveillance cameras that Brazil has installed throughout the 12 cities hosting the World Cup.
The Rio command center, however, is not in charge of suppressing riots and other brewing trouble. For that, Brazil has two national command centers in Brasilia and Rio, along with several "Integrated Command and Control Centers" and mobile command centers in World Cup cities.
Rio 2016 and Beyond: Legacy Security Tech
Brazil is hosting the 2016 Olympics, so all of these investments in anti-riot and anti-terrorism technologies will continue for the foreseeable future and beyond. That's because once installed, these mega-event security systems stick around long after the last goal is scored and the last gold medal is awarded.
And this isn't unique to Brazil. To prepare for the 2012 London Olympics, England generated the biggest military buildup in London since World War II, with warships docked on the river Thames and over 13,000 troops deployed in London —about 4,000 more than the U.K.'s presence on the ground in Afghanistan in 2011, according to Cracked.
The U.K. also installed more closed circuit surveillance TV cameras, which stuck around after the games, totaling up to an estimated 3.2 to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the U.K. and making London famously and now commonly believed to be the "most surveilled city in the world." Athens, which hosted the Olympics in 2004, still has up to 1,600 surveillance cameras in use a decade later.
These big events, argues Kevin Haggerty in Security Games: Surveillance and Control at Mega-Events (via New America Foundation) have become a way for nations and cities to show off their security measures, and a good excuse to invest a lot of money in them, citing possible terrorism threats.
And, in Brazil's case, to lock down threats from the local population, many of whom are fed up with their government and the World Cup.
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