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RICHMOND, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian official defended the huge rise in security costs for the 2010 Olympics on Friday, saying the original estimate was made before many details were known about what needed protection.
The security budget of $900 million for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, quietly released by the Canadian government on Thursday, was five times what was envisioned when the city bid for the international sporting event in 2002.
The original estimate of $175 million was made before police knew details such as how many venues they would need to protect, said Bud Mercer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and head of the police Olympic security unit.
"Without having a comprehensive (security plan) that would have been an impossible task," said Mercer, whose special unit was not formed until after Vancouver was awarded the Games in 2003.
While the security threat for the Vancouver Games is considered low, Mercer said, officials have been planning and budgeting as if the threat level were medium -- meaning there are people or groups capable of posing a danger.
"You don't plan for a doomsday event, but you have to plan," he said.
There are expected to be about 7,000 police officers at the Games, backed up by 4,000 private security personnel and an unknown number of troops. The United States will also beef up security along its border areas south of Vancouver.
The only known threats so far have come from a handful of Vancouver-area anti-poverty activists who say the Games are displacing the city's homeless and have promised disruptions.
Mercer dismissed suggestions that the C$900 million budget was overkill with the security threat seen as low.
"I wonder if that is what Munich said in 1972," he said, referring to the deadly attack on Israeli athletes in the Summer Games in Germany.
Under an agreement with the International Olympic Committee, security costs for the Games are the responsibility of the federal and British Columbia provincial governments and are not included in the Vancouver Organizing Committee's $1.75 billion operating budget.
The security budget includes $492 million for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, $212 million for the military and $11 million for the country's spy agency to identify potential terror threats to the Games.
Federal and provincial officials haggled for months over how to divide the costs but struck a deal recently.
Editing by John O'Callaghan