Ancient City, Modern Miracle

The Athens 2004 Olympics came and went and—in a big shock to many—the city is still standing. Despite the doomsday scenarios, there were no terrorist invasions and no local radical bloodshed. Did Greece get lucky in not having been targeted by the likes of Al Qaeda? Or did its $1.5 billion security plan featuring a sophisticated command, control and intelligence system, international backup and 70,000 security people deter would-be foes? The answers, like much of the Games’ security structure, are still concealed. Butthe small country’s ability to safely host the first post-Sept. 11, 2001 Summer Games offers some hope for all of us.
Athens was lucky in the sense that the small incidents that occurred between Aug. 13 and 29 weren’t violent. As the Associated Press put it, the worst security breaches at the Games were “one man in a pastel-blue tutu and another in a red kilt.” The blue tutu belonged to Canadian Ron Bensimhon, who on Aug. 16 leapt to the diving board and dove into the Olympic pool in a silly outfit advertising an online gambling site. The kilt appeared on the last day of the Games when, despite police escorts and roadside barriers, an Irish ex-priest named Cornelius Horan tackled the marathon race leader, Vanderlie de Lima, not far from the finish. The Brazilian runner later stated he feared the man might have a weapon.
In the last days of the event, tear gas was fired twice, although there was no sign of the unrest and violence some had predicted. On Aug. 27, about 1,000 people protesting the announced visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell were blocked as they marched toward the US embassy. The visit was ultimately canceled.
In an unrelated incident two days later, young people clashed with riot police in the tourist hangout Monastiraki. Terrorist expert Maria Bossi speculated that no bigger incidents took place because the usual suspects, primarily young people, “were all attending the Olympics” or “at the beach.” Greeks were united, she believed, by their desire for safety and a good national image.
Dr. George Papakonstandis, a social psychologist and a ranking police officer/instructor based in Crete, thought security measures, the fear of consequences if caught and “a spirit of peace during the Games” played a part.
US Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller also pointed to high spirits in the country, especially after the Euro Cup victory on July 4, which served as a safety net. “When this spirit got going, it made the political attractiveness of domestic terrorism events much, much less attractive,” he said.
After the Games, Public Order Minister Yiorgos Voulgarakis revealed that there had been many tense moments. The worst of these was when, on a tip, military forces swept the entire land and water area around the new Rio-Antirio bridge north of the Peloponnese. During the Games, suspect packages were examined at both the Athens International Airport and an Athens post office, but they proved harmless. The government dispelled early reports that several official vehicle stickers had been stolen before the Games. Voulgarakis revealed undercover agents were planted in sporting venues to test security, whether by lighting a cigarette (strictly forbidden and remarkably enforced), trying to enter with weapons or starting a “brawl”. (They were stopped in all cases.) It also emerged that some of the smiling “volunteers” were also undercover agents.
In a new Olympic “sport,” journalists tested security by trying to break into venues—or lying about doing so. When one British tabloid journalist (from the Sunday Mirror) claimed to have snared a job as a worker at the main Athens Olympic Sports Complex stadium and planted fake bombs there under a false name, the government pointed out that the identities of the 4,000 workers at the venue were cross-checked by Europol and Interpol. During the Games, many of the 200,000 accreditation cards, with their 10 high-tech security features, were visible everywhere in the city.
Security triathlon
As Bossi put it, Greece opted for the “better safe than sorry” approach. Athens was on high alert. Before the Games, venues were swept for dangerous materials and locked down. Piraeus port was equipped with underwater sensors and patrol boats. The docks for eight exclusive cruise ship hotels in Piraeus, including the Queen Mary II, were sealed off. Security forces (some armed, others not) spent long, hot hours guarding the fenced-off Olympic venues and their neighborhoods. VIP hotels were guarded and their vehicles equipped with global positioning system (GPS) equipment.
The government had announced that any aircraft violating Athens’ no-fly zone would be shot down, while military planes patrolled it and four other Olympic cities. Greece’s dozens of Patriot missiles were prepared to preserve the airspace in at least three Athens areas (including the Hellenikon venue, the former US base site where baseball was among the events), plus the northern city of Thessaloniki and Skyros island. There were three military helicopters and a security zeppelin, with its characteristic sci-fi whirling sounds, videotaping everything. (After the Games, Voulgarakis was critical of the airship’s poor performance in windy conditions).
Significantly, the police’s Olympic Games Security Division and other forces were using the shiny new $300 million command, control, computers and intelligence (C4I) system from Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), based in San Diego, Calif., with 100 SAIC staffers on hand to back up their Greek counterparts. David Tubbs, SAIC’s project manager, said it was the biggest contract he’d ever seen at an Olympic event. SAIC was responsible, according to Tubbs, for everything from building command centers to equipping nine ports and setting up 1,200 TV cameras. Though he admitted there was limited time for troubleshooting, and the system was not 100 percent completed before the Games due to venue construction delays, he said SAIC had everything “related to the security of the Games” ready. A TETRA radio system, see-in-the-dark cameras, microphones, sensor-equipped fences and various communications systems were among the technological devices feeding information back to the command center. None of the technology went unused.
SAIC’s main task was to “find reliable companies we know can do the work,” while remaining on budget, Tubbs said.
According to Tubbs, the C4I system performed without a glitch. “Our CCTV [closed circuit television] worked. Our airborne video worked. The video from the boats worked. The sensors worked on the fences around the [Olympic] Village and at the ports.” The only failures were minor ones routinely associated with technology.
There were hundreds of X-ray machines, portable metal detectors, mirrors (to inspect the bottom of vehicles), magnetic gates/doors and explosive detectors involved in venue and border security. At venues, ticket-holders had to pass through inspection areas that included X-ray systems and metal detectors.
NATO, US support
During the Games, as promised, NATO backed up the Greek Coast Guard with its Mediterranean fleet. It also provided Advanced Warning And Airborne Control System (AWACS) air surveillance and sent its Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Task Force on its first major mission. The United States loaned Greece two Customs truck scanners and provided three Boston whalers as part of its Antiterrorism Assistance Program. The Department of Energy gave a $26 million gift of radiological and nuclear material detectors. The United States also offered some of the services of its Navy SEALs, the Sixth Fleet, an interagency task force (FBI, CIA, and Department of Defense) and US Customs and Border Protection officers (enforcing the US Container Security Initiative). More than 100 special agents kept watch over the athletes.
Remarked Ambassador Miller of the effort: “I think this is one of the big success stories of interagency coordination. It worked like a charm, and I think support from Washington was excellent. I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-ish about all this. I think it was a good show all around. It was a top priority, and our government at the top level considered it a top priority, so we got the resources and we got the coordination we needed.”
Miller thought terrorists chose not to target the Athens Games due to the major security preparations. “I think they did look at it and concluded there was too much being done—the prospect of asuccessful terrorist hit was too low, so they decided to go somewhere else.”
In an exit poll, 92 percent of spectators told Greek pollsters that they felt “completely safe” in Athens during the Olympics. Whether or not this statistic is too high, Miller noticed a change in America’s athletes, too. “They were reading press accounts—sometimes very inaccurate, sometimes very speculative … I think when the athletes got out here and got to kind of lay their own eyes on the ground, firsthand, that their anxiety level—those I talked to—went down a lot.”
Perhaps, in the end, Greece got lucky because no one targeted any “soft targets.” However extensive the security network and watchful the zeppelin, there were, of course, large parts of the city unprotected by surveillance. It probably helped, though, that the Olympic Athens was a city without traffic clutter (the Olympic lanes were respected); it wasn’t overcrowded (to the tourist industry’s chagrin); the streets were cleaner than any resident had ever seen and nearly 500 new foot police were made available. Crime actually fell 20 percent, the police reported.
Were there incidents that didn’t come to light? Social psychologist/ police trainer Papakonstandis doesn’t believe so. “If anything had occurred, the public would have been informed, due to the large reaction required.” The government denied a report in the newspaper Ta Nea that 10 Muslim migrants were arrested before the Games. Referring to a separate case, expert Bossi pointed out that several Sudanese tourists were wrongly kicked out of the country.
Not long after the glitch-free Games, Greeks began to wonder if they’d paid too much for security. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis began to publicize the help provided by other countries with the international sporting event’s security costs, and said, “No budget is too high when you have to protect human beings, especially after 9/11.”
SAIC’s Tubbs pointed out that, after the events of 2001, security “became essential, not only because of the reality of the situation but people’s perception of what was necessary in terms of security.”
The cost of security arrangements for the Games isn’t final yet. Said Ambassador Miller: “It’s hard to monetize some of the costs … because you have to do [military] exercises anyway to keep your state of readiness. … Do you count salaries of people you’d pay as a cost or not? I’d be real, real careful when you talk about money.”
In a sign of the times, the cities bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games are all emphasizing security. The NYC 2012 website emphasizes that its city’s police force is three times larger than that of any other city in the United States. Paris 2012 organizers also pitch the size of their police force and point to Paris’ advanced security technology.
Meanwhile, in Athens, Public Order Minister Voulgarakis talks of “winning the bet” on security, as security forces collect bonuses for their Olympic overtime. As the Paralympics’ end signals the return to normal city security, SAIC is readying the city’s C4I system for post-Games applications. The company has a five-year maintenance contract with Greece for the C4I system and a 10-year contract with it for the TETRA system. HST
The corporate contribution
The private sector made a significant contribution to the success of the Athens games. Companies that were involved included:
Autonomy Corp.—This London dot-com success story provided the software to scan video, audio and text data for suspect communications. The company says its software can form “associations between seemingly disparate documents to alert of potentially dangerous activities or individuals.” It helped agents scan “chatter” in many languages. DHS also employs Autonomy products.
Atos Origin—Headquartered in Paris, Atos Origin became the worldwide information technology (IT) partner of the International Olympic Committee after purchasing original IT partner SchulmbergerSema in January 2004. Four hundred Atos Origin staffers were in Athens. Security was a major concern in the architecture of the company’s Games networks, which handled tasks like accreditation and the distribution of sports times and news. The network’s independence from the Internet, plus antivirus software by California’s Symantec and a virtual local area network monitoring tool from Computer Associates, were critical factors. The company is already preparing for Turin and Beijing.
General Dynamics—Greece purchased 650 combat search and rescue radios (AN/PRC-112G HOOK 2) from the Scottsdale, Ariz., division of this corporate giant, headquartered in Falls Church, Va. The devices, which are also used by the US and British military, send two-way encrypted messages and locations for search-and-rescue missions.
Mer Security and Surveillance Solutions—One of over a dozen Israeli companies involved in Athens security, Mer was involved in areas such as the CCTV network, access control and city surveillance. Other security contractors based in Israel included C4I expert Elbit Systems and patrol boat-maker Israel Shipyards. Controp Precision Technology Ltd. sold 18 CEDAR-M Electro-Optical Observation Systems, which create a virtual fence around objects. Cellocator’s GPS equipment allowed Greek security to track 2,500 of their vehicles. Finally, Motorola Israel was responsible for the $25 million TETRA wireless radio communications system used by security authorities.
Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC)—The biggest player in the Athens Games’ security was this San Diego-based research and engineering company. SAIC led the international consortium of companies responsible for the $300-plus million contract for the Games’ all-important C4I system. Ranked 239 in the Fortune 500 listings, SAIC’s annual revenues are $6.7 billion. The employee-owned company was started in 1969 by J. Robert Beyster, formerly a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Over the decades, the company has grown, with government and private contracts in fields like health care, information- technology software and space/missile systems. SAIC and its subsidiaries employ 44,000 people. It created a Homeland Security Task Force in 1999.
Skycruiser Corporation Group—A Lindau, Switzerland enterprise launched by Christian Schulthess and American company Airship Management Services, Skycruiser’s new-generation helium blimps mostly take tourists for $300 rides over Lake Lucerne or are used for advertising and broadcasting purposes. This summer, however, Skycruiser’s Skyship 600 airship floated over the Alps to Athens. The blimp (nicknamed Phevos, after the Olympics’ Gumby-like mascot) was outfitted with sensors, chemical sniffers and three gyroscopic cameras. The cameras featured infrared night vision and a powerful ability to zoom in 72 times. A second Skycruiser blimp was used for broadcast purposes.
Smiths Detection—Formerly known as Graseby Dynamics, this subsidiary of London-based Smiths Group Plc specializes in biological, chemical, explosives and narcotics detection equipment. It leased more than 260 X-ray systems and sold equipment, including 200 chemical agent monitors (CAMs), to the Greek government for the Games. Greece also employed its GID-3 atmosphere monitoring sniffers to detect nerve, blister, blood and choking agents and HI-SCAN equipment to inspect baggage. Athens International Airport and police benefited from these purchases.

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