In preparation for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, organizers asked Dr. Georg Sieber, a police psychologist, to sketch out the possible scenarios that would jeopardize the safety of the Olympic Games and to prepare requisite security training. Sieber identified twenty-six highly detailed scenarios, which ran the gamut from hijacked jets, remote controlled bombs and smuggled arms. In his method, he extrapolated from his study of the most notorious terrorists of that era, including the IRA, PLO, ETA and the Baader-Meinhof gang.
His scenario Number 21 went something like this:
At 05:00, a dozen armed Palestinian terrorists will scale the six-foot high perimeter fence of the Olympic village and make their way to the building that houses the Israeli delegation. They will kill a few of the hostages they take and demand the release of prisoners from Israeli jails as well as a plane on which to escape.
At the time, this threat assessment scenario was dismissed as preposterous. As it happened, the attack and massacre of the Israeli athletes on September 5th occurred almost precisely as Dr. Sieber predicted. Was Sieber psychic? Ah, no. I would say that he was simply analyzing the situation from the point of view of the potential aggressors as part of a proactive defense strategy.
Many factors informed the security decision processes that resulted in this disaster and the failed rescue attempt that followed. Prominent among them was the German desire to obliterate the memory of Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. A pessimistic, doomsday prediction and the security in place to prevent it, would just drag down the mood they wanted to promote.
Especially when it comes to security, why does wishful thinking so often trump diabolical reality? Why do we shoot the messenger? It’s the enemy, the terrorists, suicide bombers, crazed and desperate dictators whose scenarios we have to deal with, whether we like it or not. We can’t successfully defend ourselves by picking and choosing those enemy tactics with which we are most comfortable.