WORLD CUP - Security scores big at tournament

Germany is anxious about next month's World Cup soccer tournament -- in both senses of the word.

The country is thrilled to host one of the most coveted sports events on the planet. Who wouldn't be? Yet it's also worried that something could go wrong, terribly wrong, as it did in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

More than three decades later, Germany is once again a global showplace. And, sadly, the potential for something to go wrong is as great -- if not greater -- than it was back then. Even if German security officials admit they're most worried about hooligans flinging beer bottles at fans, they won't deny their fear of neonazis throwing some punches at foreigners or, even worse, Islamic terrorists tossing a few bombs in crowded stadiums.

Not surprisingly, security is a top priority for the German government, even higher than its desire to see the national team walk off the pitch with the World Cup 2006 trophy.

The list of security precautions the government is taking is substantial. It begins with the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. More than 3.5 million tickets for the 64 matches will be sold with an embedded RFID chip containing identification information that will be checked against a database as fans pass through entrance gates at all 12 stadiums.

Organizers have asked everyone requesting tickets to provide a wealth of personal data, including name, address, date of birth, nationality and number of ID card or passport. Never before have fans attending an event organized by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) been required to provide so much information about themselves that can be accessed so quickly.

Deep inside the German Interior Ministry in Berlin is the National Information and Cooperation Center, the nerve center for the country's mammoth security operations. The center, which swung into 24-hour action on May 18, will gather reports from the German police, Interpol and intelligence services about suspicious activity and coordinate security operations nationwide.

The center is manned by 120 people equipped with a battery of computers and screens, which offer a bird's eye view of the World Cup security situation. The screens will show video feeds from surveillance cameras set up to monitor crowds in and around the stadiums as well as select public areas.

The stadiums are also be equipped with special cameras to record biometric facial features of suspected trouble-makers. Video sequences will be checked in real-time against photos stored in databases.

Another special group, the Central Sports Intelligence Unit in Neuss near Dusseldorf, is receiving thousands of tips from authorities in nations competing in the World Cup. Its database includes information on 6,000 hooligans who are already known to police and pose a direct threat.

Many of the security systems and procedures were tested during the Confederation Cup soccer tournament in Germany last year.

More than 30,000 federal police officers will be on duty during the games. Some of them will be equipped with mobile "fast identification" fingerprint devices. Fingerprint data captured by the optical devices will also be matched against data stored in the central database of the German Federal Intelligence Service.

The German army will keep around 7,000 troops on alert, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons forces, in addition to 15,000 private security professionals hired by FIFA to help secure the venues. Airspace during matches at the 12 World Cup stadiums will be closed in a radius of around 5 kilometers.

Germany can't erase from the history books what went wrong in Munich but the security measures the country has taken for the World Cup games could add a new chapter on how to do it right.

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