Elite armed bodyguards are being trained at a secret location in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics to keep athletes safe.
Civilian mercenaries are travelling from across Europe to the countryside camp to hone their skills in close protection, the prevention of terrorism and major incident control.
With the official qualifications earned during a gruelling three-week course in Co Down, they will be ready to guard VIPs and groups around the world â€“ and command lucrative contracts.
The Games' official organising committee in London is under fire from the US who claim the safety of their top athletes is at risk after the English experts admitted they had underestimated the number of security staff needed.
And we can reveal today that officials working on the Olympic programme have already been in contact with the specialist security trainers in Northern Ireland.
A Washington source told the Daily Mirror: "We believe al-Qaeda, or one of its affiliates, is likely to try to disrupt the Olympics, with the US team an obvious target.
"Our sportsmen and women and their coaches and staff need proper security. We mean to insure that happens at all costs, whether we use our own people or trusted contractors.
"The men and women taking up these new posts from Northern Ireland will be leading the way. They have the training and experience and they have that sixth sense that only comes from having been in challenging security situations.
"We know about the Northern Ireland training camp. It's run by people with excellent credentials, vast experience and knowledge. We've been in contact and we like what we see."
The contact came after bosses in Washington revealed they now plan to send 500 FBI and 500 other security agents to London to protect their citizens next year, and the Metropolitan police announced live on TV that most of its officers will not be armed during the Olympics.
The Daily Mirror was given exclusive access this week to two groups planning to sell their knowledge and experience to the world's top names, as they were put through paces.
The men and women taking up the training pay thousands for the privilege and many of the more recent applicants are PSNI Reserve officers who are facing the sack next month.
Training included dealing with:
- sniper fire,
- conflict management
- medic awareness
- handgun training
- hostile environment training
- physical intervention, and
- security guarding
A source said: "The training offered at this camp is the best in the world. It is also recognised that the people being trained are some of the best in the world and are in huge demand.
"But there are rules and regulations. People who want the big jobs need current qualifications. The Co Down course gives them that as long as they're good enough. For some of the men and women who come here the courses are simply a matter of a refresher as they've been working in the same area for the police and Army.
"We have SAS specialists coming through who have left the job but just need certification before they can apply for the civilian contracts.
"We have elite security trainers going through their paces for paperwork. And then we have people coming from all walks of life who believe they have what it takes to make it in the tough world of high-end, full-on security.
"This week we have one young man who has turned out to be an absolute natural and he's a 24-year-old carpenter. But it looks like he has chosen the right career path now.
"If he was on my security team I'd be more than happy. He's a good lad. He listens, watches and learns and I'd predict he'll do very well."
Only one woman, 40-year-old Marion, from Donaghadee, Co Down, completed the most recent course alongside 13 men.
She said: "I'm a police officer at heart and this area of policing is what really interests me. It gets the adrenaline pumping and you've got to be on your game. I don't want to leave the police but I'm being forced to because of the cuts to the Reserve Force." Marion â€“ not her real name â€“ applied for the specialist security training and took leave from her job knowing the PSNI would pay up to Â£5,000 towards the fees to assist with the imminent redundancies.
She said: "The course was fantastic. The medical training alone is superior to anything I've ever experienced. I feel confident now that if you had your leg blown off I'd be able to handle the situation and save your life."
Marion is already well-versed in riot control and anti-terror training as a member of the PSNI's Tactical Support Group. But she has learned other skills on the civvie street course.
She said: "This training will help me find good work after the job I've been in for 14 years comes to an end. I could travel the world but there are enough close protection specialists needed in Northern Ireland.
"Women are at an advantage with these qualification as there are fewer of us about." Many of those trained in Northern Ireland will be contracted to security work at the 32 Olympic sites.
The London Organising Committee originally claimed it only needed 10,000 guards at the Games. But after a review the number is now 21,000.
Venue safety will not be the responsibility of the police, so security firm G4S has been awarded the contract to find and train the initial group.
It has set up an advertising campaign to meet that target and applicants from the Northern Ireland training camp are of special interest.
One of the three men behind the Co Down training camp is Andrew Mawhinney, a retired police officer. Their company Minerva was partly funded by Invest NI.
Mr Mawhinney said: "We are training men and women to a level three close protection qualification.
"They can work for almost anyone and almost every company. The training is arduous, gruelling and repetitive but that's what it takes. This is not a TV show, these people are going into real situations where the enemy's intention is to kill and maim. There are many ways of doing that and our trained specialists need to now how to act in any given situation. This can be life and death.
"Yes we have former members of the RUC, RIR, PSNI and SAS and we expect to have increased numbers of redundant prison officers soon. But we also have many civilians who have a natural leaning towards security work.
"For some people our courses will be life- changing and will lead them to an amazing and well-paid career. For others who don't cut it, they've enjoyed an exciting course, learned some essential skills and made some very good friends. This training is not for everyone. But then we only want the best for the job."
Anyone can apply for an elite Minerva security course and each applicant must pass security vetting before they are accepted. They must also be accepted as a gun club member to be allowed legal access to live weapons and ammunition
And each course graduate receives certificates from City&Guilds and the Security Industry Authority. They must agree to attend monthly refresher firearms courses to keep their qualifications valid.
I love the "Civilian mercenaries" spin
These are the guys http://minervani.com/index.php, really bad website but Andy, Dickie, Esler and the rest aren't really webdesigners, they shine in other areas