MSA Intel

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games, also known as PyeongChang 2018, are set to take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea (ROK), from Friday, February 9 to Sunday, February 25. In addition, the Paralympic Games in Gangneung will immediately follow the Winter Olympics from March 9 to 18.

The city of PyeongChang is located approximately 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) east of Seoul, in the rugged, mountainous region of the Gangwon Province. It is also located approximately 60 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. A total of 92 countries will be participating in this year’s Winter Olympics, and this year’s Games will be the first international sporting event to be hosted by the East Asian nation since the FIFA World Cup tournament of 2002, co-hosted with Japan, and South Korea’s second Olympic Games since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. The geo-political regional landscape has changed considerably since the 1980s; China has risen as a dominant military and economic power in the region, while Japan has had to contend with waning political and economic influence. Yet, the rapid growth of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs over the past decade arguably poses the greatest security challenges to South Korea and the region at this time. As a result, it remains unclear what short-term impact recent events related to these programs will have on the Winter Olympics. The escalation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program, along with the frequency of missile tests, can be pinned to the ascension of supreme leader Kim Jong-un in 2011. Recent diplomatic communications between the North and South, however, indicate some degree of positive cooperation between the two nations through the end of Winter Olympic competition in March.


There are thirteen venues in Pyeongyang for the Olympics, spread across an 85.6 square mile radius, with the Alpensia Resort in Daegwallyeong-myeon to be the focus of the more popular winter athletic events. The resort includes PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, a temporary structure with a capacity for 35,000 spectators, and where the opening and closing ceremonies are to be held; the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center; the Alpensia Biathlon Center; the Alpensia Cross-Country Center; the Alpensia Sliding Center; the Olympic Village; and the

Yongpyong Alpine Center. Stand-alone venues outside the resort area include Bokwang Snow Park and the Jeongseon Alpine Center. Lastly, there is the coastal Gangneung Olympic Park cluster, which includes venues for hockey, curling, and speed-and-figure skating events. In addition, a standalone venue is also located on the grounds of Kwandong University. The 2018 Winter Olympics will feature 102 events across 15 sports.




Security Preparations

The PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics are expected to draw at least half a million visitors to the Olympic venues in PyeongChang and Gangneung, and security preparations have been the top concern for the South Korean government in the run-up to the Games. In September 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that the country was working aggressively to ensure that the highest level of security systems were in place amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches. Extra measures include the following:

· South Korea’s Defense Ministry will deploy some 5,000 armed forces personnel at the Games, double the 2,400 on duty during the 2002 World Cup. According to officials, they will be guarding all venues during the entirety of the Games.

· PyeongChang’s Olympic organizing committee, known as the POCOG, has budgeted 1.3 billion dollars for cybersecurity protection, and has selected a private cybersecurity company to guard against a potential North Korean cyber-hack attempt. The South Korean government has concluded that North Korea was behind a series of hacking attempts over the last decade, including a 2013 cyberattack against South Korean banks and broadcasters that froze computer systems for more than a week; however, North Korea has continued to deny any responsibility for such attacks.

· The POCOG has also hired a private security contractor charged with employing an estimated 500 personnel to operate X-ray screening machines at points of entry during the Games. The Committee has earmarked a total of 17.6 million dollars for screening security measures.

North Korea’s Participation

North Korea has a long history of participation in the global sporting event, as Pyongyang has sent athletes to every Summer Olympics since 1972, with the exception of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Games in Seoul, which they boycotted for political reasons. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), North Korea will be sending 22 athletes to the Winter Games, and both North and South Korea will march together under one flag at the opening ceremony.


Currently, there are no reports of terror threats from any group or organization directed at the Games, athletes, venues, or attendees; however, there have been reports in the past of threats directed against U.S. airbases in the country. In June 2016, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported that U.S. airbases in Osan city in Gyeonggi Province, and Gunsan city in North Jeolla Province, appeared on a list of terror targets disseminated by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) via an Internet messaging service. Camp Eagle Army Base in Gangwon Province, which is located roughly 30 miles west of PyeongChang, has not appeared on the list of targets.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service will be in charge of security operations, partnered with the government’s antiterrorism center. Intelligence officials are reportedly also working with 50 countries whose athletes are participating in the Games in collecting counter-terrorism intelligence, and some are expected to send their own covert agents to protect their athletes and staff. Immigration Service officials also reported that in December 2016, at least 17 foreigners “who could potentially pose a terrorist menace to the Olympics" were deported last year. The foreigners were reportedly either members of international terrorist groups specific to South Korea’s Anti-Terror Law, or individuals whose names were on a “wanted” list shared with their intelligence agencies. At this time, there are no further details regarding these foreigners’ alleged affiliations, or the countries to which they were deported.

In preparation for this year’s Winter Games, the South Korean Defense Ministry created a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to specifically guard against terrorism. According to South Korean SWAT team leaders, security forces will periodically search Olympic venues to “check for bombs, protect athletes and visitors, and guard against any attempts to assassinate key figures.” In early December more than 400 security and emergency personnel, including police and firefighters, participated in a series of security drills to prepare for potential terror scenarios, including a hostage situation, a vehicle ramming, and a bomb- attached drone, among others.

According to Defense Ministry officials, there is always a risk of North Korea resorting to military maneuvers, terrorism, cyber-attacks in an effort to disrupt the high-profile international event. Previous episodes of this type of activity perpetrated by North Korea include:

June 2002: During the World Cup semifinals between South Korea and Turkey, North Korean patrol boats crossed the disputed maritime border and exchanged fire with South Korean vessels, killing six South Korean sailors.

November 1987: North Korean agents detonated a bomb on Korean Air Flight 858, killing all 104 passengers and 11 crew, nine months before South Korea was set to host the Summer Games in Seoul. Investigators later discovered that the order for the attack had come from then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with the aim of frightening international athletes and visitors from attending the Seoul Olympics.

In addition to the above-listed examples, there is a well-known history of militants targeting previous Olympic Games. Examples include the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian militants at the 1972 Munich Games, as well as the Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta, Georgia by far-right extremist Eric Rudolph during the 1996 Summer Games.

In 2017, several European countries, along with the United States, expressed concerns over attending the 2018 Winter Games due to North Korea’s provocations. Representatives of the French, German, Austrian and British Olympic teams all publicly declared they would boycott the games unless South Korea could guarantee its security environment. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) confirmed that it was working with all the relevant authorities in South Korea to ensure the safety of its athletes. In addition, South Korean officials believe the presence of North Korean athletes and their accompanying delegation should deter the risk of any attacks occurring.

Geopolitical Tensions

While South Korea has always faced unique challenges with its hostile and nuclear-armed neighbor, the level of threats and security necessary to counter them have escalated since South Korea last hosted a major international sporting event. South Korea routinely conducts military training exercises and civil defense drills, often in partnership with the U.S. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea often responds to these military training exercises with strongly worded and threatening messages.

In recent months, tensions have significantly increased on the Korean Peninsula due to a series of North Korean missile tests as it continues its pursuit of a sustainable nuclear weapons program in defiance of international sanctions. In 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, as well as three test-launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) as part of its push to possess a nuclear missile capable of reaching any location in the continental U.S. The North was subsequently hit with toughened United Nations (UN) sanctions. North Korea is believed to have thousands of missiles capable of hitting South Korea's capital of Seoul, in the event war were to break out.

In this tense environment, steps have been taken in an effort to minimize the risk of provoking an aggressive North Korean reaction during the games. They include:

● Washington’s cooperation in delaying their joint military exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, with South Korea until after the games have ended in March. A yearly occurrence, North Korea has consistently protested these drills, which generally involve mock “decapitation” raids against its leadership, and the movement of over 300,000 U.S. and South Korean troops.

● High-level bilateral talks convened on January 9 between North and South Korea, and were held at the Panmunjom Joint Security Area (JSA) located on the border in the demilitarized zone. Initiated by North Korea’s restoration of a telephone hotline in the JSA, the meeting’s initial focus was on facilitating North Korean athletes’ participation in the Winter Games. North Korean leader Kim Jong- un has also stated publicly that a North Korean delegation to the Games would be "a good opportunity to show unity of the people." These were the first high-level talks between the two Koreas since December 2015.

In spite of these efforts at easing hostilities, most North Korean and global security experts believe that inter- Korean ties will revert to their previous levels once the Games end. North Korea has already made it clear it does not accept international calls for nuclear disarmament, and that it intends to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats.


According to the U.S. Department of State, demonstrations and rallies are common in South Korea, particularly near the U.S. Embassy, Seoul City Hall, and areas surrounding both U.S. and South Korean military installations. The State Department recommends that visitors avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and to exercise caution near any large public gatherings, protests, or rallies. Even demonstrations advertised as peaceful have been known to on occasion become confrontational and even escalate into violence.


According to the U.S. State Department, South Korea remains a very safe country for foreigners. As in other countries, common crimes occur more frequently in major metropolitan areas, near tourist sites, and at crowded markets. At this time, there are no specific Department of State travel warnings regarding crime in South Korea.


By all accounts, South Korean authorities have taken every precaution to protect athletes, venues, attendees, and foreign officials during the Games. Global allies, including the United States, are reportedly coordinating with South Korean intelligence officials to monitor for potential external and internal threats. In addition, the presence of the U.S. Army’s anti-ballistic Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korean territory provides the defensive capability necessary to contend with any potential incoming missile. Finally, North Korea’s recent efforts to proactively display a united, cooperative image with South Korea likely negates the potential for the regime to provoke conflict and potentially lose “face” in front of the international community.

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