Guarding the Games

Three months before the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, Greek officials, Olympic professionals and international security advisors worked up a sweat. They faced an action movie-type scenario: a terrorist attack at an Olympic venue. With just four days to save the world—or at least the Athens Olympics—they assessed the damages and risks and orchestrated a response. They consulted maps and made urgent calls, with unlimited tools at their disposal: up-to-date American communications technology, state-of-the-art weaponry, thousands of well-trained security units, the best military minds in the world, plus NATO backup.

Was it enough?

The answer may never be known, because theMay 13-16 “Olympic Guardian II” was a secret Greek-US drill. But in thefinal countdown to the Aug. 13-29 Games, Greece has made seriousbusiness of security. Among the measures taken, it has spent at leastthree times more than Sydney, Australia, on security (the figure iscreeping toward $1.2 billion), convicted November 17 terrorist groupmembers and enlisted all forms of international assistance. But theAthens scenario begs the question: Is it possible to ensure a safeSummer Olympics in today’s hostile world?

The Challenge

The scale of the endeavor is huge. Athenswill welcome 16,000 athletes and their coaches from a record 202countries, as well as 8,000 members of the Olympic family, 3,000officials, 22,000 journalists and an estimated 2 million visitors. AGreater Athens of 4.5 million people must be protected. This includes36 competitive venues and dozens of non-competitive sites (includingthe Olympic Village). Dense central Athens, its transportation systemand hotels must be safeguarded, along with four Olympic soccer stadiumsin the cities of Thessaloniki, Volos Patra and Iraklion. Not an easytask, especially considering the country’s long coast and rockynorthern borders.

“The Summer Olympics are the biggestpeacetime security event in the world,” explained Neil Fergus, CEO ofAustralian security company Intelligent Risks. His company contributeda venues vulnerability study to the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee(ATHOC), as well as other risk assessments. Peter Ryan, who advisesAthens 2004 and headed Sydney Olympic security, told USA Today theGames can be equated to “five Super Bowls every day for 16 days.”

The Olympic ideal of a peaceful gathering ofathletes was first tainted by terrorism in Munich in 1972, when theBlack September hostage crisis resulted in the death of 11 Israeliathletes. Next was the backpack bomb at Atlanta’s Centennial OlympicPark, which left one woman dead. Though there are no indications that aterrorist group has targeted Athens, the post-Sept. 11, 2001 climatehas raised global anxiety.

Assurance and insurance

In a sign of the times, although theInternational Olympic Committee (IOC) has played a major role indictating what is demanded of Athens security, it also purchased a $170million contingency insurance policy from a London insurance syndicateto cover the Games’ possible cancelation or abbreviation. It hasnothing to do with Athens, the IOC said, adding that such policies maybecome standard.

What security does the event, watched bybillions of people on television, require? Intelligent Risks’ Fergussaid an “intellectually rigorous security methodology” for deployingresources and risk management is needed, and a good C4I (command,control, communications, computers and intelligence) system is key.However, the Summer Games shouldn’t be used to test prototypes, hewarned: “All technology must be robust, user-friendly and tried andtested in stressful operating environments. Equipment or technologyfailure is unacceptable!”

In Athens, Fergus said, the success of thetechnology contract is critical. That $300 million contract went to aconsortium led by the San Diego, Calif.-based Science ApplicationsInternational Corp. (SAIC). The consortium includes Siemens, Motorola,AMS and E Team; and Greece-based companies ALTEC, Diekat andPouliadis-PC Systems

SAIC, which set up the security network forSalt Lake City’s Games, is installing a complex communication andsurveillance system. The project includes four major systems and 30subsystems with a network of 1,400 cameras, an overhead airship,sensors, computers and communications links. Motorola is responsiblefor the $28 million TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA) system forcommunication with its Class 3 encryption security. This project is amajor priority. The question is whether or not it will work to its fullcapacity.

SAIC aims to finish setting up the system bythe end of May. However, as the English-language weekly Athens Newsreported, the government and the consortium  remain in disagreementover the contract, and testing may be delayed. SAIC officials declinedto comment on the issue.

Athens security blitz

The C4I system and drills with names like“Hercules’ Shield” and “Blue Odyssey” are only part of Greece’s questfor “total security.”

Most preparations run through the Ministry ofPublic Order’s Olympic Games Security Division (OGSD), headed by Maj.Gen. Vasillis Constantinides. It’s a new unit of the Hellenic Policemodeled after security operations at previous Olympics. The OGSD’smission is to coordinate the security effort during the Summer Gamesand Paralympics (Sept. 17-28). Housed in its own small building withinthe well-armed Public Order Ministry complex, the OGSD includes stafffrom the Hellenic Police, Armed Forces, Coast Guard and Fire Brigade,as well as the National Intelligence Service.

Also key to the effort is the internationalOlympic Advisory Committee (OAG). Experts in this group from the US,UK, France, Germany Australia, Spain, Israel and, most recently, Russiaprovide intelligence and training expertise. The US has a prominentrole that includes training Greek officers (in the US and Greece) andproviding expensive radioactivity-detecting machines for borders. TheCIA and FBI provide regular input. The Greek press reported thatNational Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice promised “anything needed”to Greek Public Order Minister Yiorgos Voulgarakis when he visitedWashington in May.

Unprecedented cooperation

The security plan is enormous. For it towork, communication and coordination are paramount.  Intelligent Risks’Fergus warned about the danger of fragmented information or “the lefthand not knowing what the right hand is doing.” In an effort to dealwith this issue, Greece has formed an Olympic Security CoordinationCouncil made up of the Public Order Ministry, seven other keyministries and other government bodies. As the Games approach, theymeet every few weeks to coordinate efforts.

Meanwhile, Greece has entered into no lessthan 37 protocols with 22 countries to help ensure safety. Saidjournalist Maria Daliani of the daily newspaper Ta Nea: “It’s the firsttime Greece has entered such close cooperation with other countries.”She thinks the country has proven it understands “the internationalenvironment after 9/11, exchanging information and educating theirpeople.”

Police spokesman Lefteris Oikonomou saidthese alliances create “a network of security,” but emphasized Greekcontrol. “International cooperation works within and under the auspicesof the Hellenic Police,” he said.

The Public Order Ministry persistently deniedthat some teams will bring their own armed security guards. At the sametime, the US team, for one, is expected to travel with a large group ofits own guards.

Looking to the future, Oikonomou said theHellenic Police “will be able to offer its expertise in the greaterBalkan areas, the EU and elsewhere it might be needed.”

Analysis: Achilles’ heel

As the massive giant the Olympics has becomelumbers home to its birthplace, safety concerns abound despite all theprecautions being taken. There are fears that delays at numerous venueswill interfere with the lockdown procedure and the testing of the C4Isystem. Local radical violence is another issue, even though the newlysworn-in conservatives downplay the threat, pointing to the recentconviction of November 17 terrorist group members and the trial of ELAgroup suspects. Public Order Minister Voulgarakis recently said,“Everyone understands that terrorism on a national level has ended.”However, the new group “Revolutionary Struggle,” which claimedresponsibility for the May 5 explosions at an Athens-area policestation, has produced a manifesto and said “well-off Western Olympictourists are not welcome”.

ATHOC has assembled the “Ghosts of OlympicsPast” —  security heads from past Games including Ryan, Santiago deSicard (Barcelona) and William Rathburn (Atlanta).

Also of concern is the security team’sapparent focus on new technology. Terrorism expert Maria Bossi wondersif the Olympic security measures taken will protect against a“low-tech” attack, and noted that, in Istanbul and Madrid, readilyavailable local materials like commonly available cell phones were usedby terrorists.

Police spokesman Oikonomou claimed Greece is preparing for all types of threats, from the low-tech to the sophisticated.

To encourage the public’s participation inthe counterterror effort, the Public Order Ministry said it willprovide a phone number to call to report suspicious behavior. However,there are some indications that public cooperation and tolerance may belimited. In the Athens suburb of Nikea, the mayor covered over newstreet surveillance cameras because of his constituency’s objections.Also, an effort to introduce biometric data on Alitalia flights intoAthens’ International Airport has been opposed by the Greek watchdogData Protection Agency.

Greece’s branch of Amnesty Internationalcautioned against the costs to freedom of Olympic preparations, noting,“Security is no excuse for limiting citizens’ rights.” The organizationis critical, for example, of the police’s recent efforts to observe thegrowing Muslim immigrant community by infiltrating religious meetings(Athens has no mosque).

Finally, there is a direct clash between thewar jargon of security and the peaceful premise of the Games. Is itreally possible – as both ATHOC and Athens Mayor Dora Bakogiannisclaim- to fully protect a country inconspicuously?

Although the mayor wants to “give visitors asense of security but not make them feel suffocated by an excessivemilitary or police presence,” the City of Athens is boosting itsmunicipal police force to 620 from 116 members. City spokesman PaulAnastasi clarified that, while the force will keep an eye out forunusual behavior, these unarmed officers are devoted to other civicconcerns. The municipality will focus more on the logistics of thefestivities and leave the terror fighting to the experts. HST

Angelike Contis is a writer and documentary filmmaker based in Athens. Her work has appeared in the daily Athens News, the magazine Now in Athens and the website Her most recent documentary is Run Natasha Runabout an amateur marathon runner. She will spend the Olympics shootinga documentary about the impact of the massive event on three ordinaryAthenians’ lives.

Security Plan 2004

The Athens 2004 security plan includes:

Training—Police spokesmanLefteris Oikonomou said, “Our men and women are being trainedconstantly in all modern and up-to-date law enforcement techniques.”Some 70,000 professionals throughout the country have been trained inmore than  100 different areas, such as VIP protection and hostagerescue. Of these, 37,000 have specific Olympic security assignments,including 19,261 police and 18,000 soldiers, firefighters and CoastGuard staff. Special units have been trained to respond to chemical,nuclear and biological threats. The Ministry of Public Order said 3,200policemen have been taught to use the C4I system.  Thousands of OlympicSecurity volunteers and private security professionals also havereceived training.

Venue Security—Protectivefeatures such as double security walls, monitoring towers and guardedentrances/exits are vital to 24 competitive venues, especially thelarge Athens Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA). During the Games, therewill be a “no-guns-in-venues” policy. Security Intelligence TechnologyInc. will provide radio-frequency jamming technology to prevent the useof radio-triggered explosives. All venues are to be swept for dangerousdevices and locked down before the Games. Thirty-eight sports testevents have served as important security drills. Dozens ofnon-competitive venues, such as the International Broadcast Center andtraining facilities, also will be guarded.

Guest Safety—Athletes are to bebused back and forth, under guard, to the fenced-in Olympic Village.About 213 Olympic hotels need protection, especially the Athens Hilton,which will be the IOC Headquarters. Special preparations are in placefor a dozen floating cruise liner “hotels” (holding 13,500 visitors) inPiraeus port; and water traffic will be carefully monitored.

Transportation—Athens’omnipresent buses, trolleys and new tram cars must be safeguarded.Meanwhile, the city’s small new subway system has just received ashipment of gas masks. The Transport Ministry ordered increasedsecurity for the metro after the Madrid bombs. Two new traffic centerswill open to monitor movement. By air, the new Eleftherios VenizelosAthens International Airport is boosting its Games-time security staffto 1,500. This staff is responsible for conducting patrols andproviding access control and passenger baggage screening. Anundisclosed number of Hellenic Police will patrol certainnon-competitive Olympic venues. The airport press office emphasizedthat the airport “belongs to the overall security planning of theOlympic Games Security Division.”

Utility Protection—Theelectrical, water, telecommunications and other facilities for theentire greater Athens area will be guarded against attack.

Territorial Protection—Borderpatrols will be on alert and a no-fly zone enforced. The InternationalCivil Aviation Organization has agreed to 14 new air routes in theregion, so that the Athens airspace can be cleared quickly if needed.NATO has promised member Greece aerial alert help (with four AWACS), ajoint monitoring of seas and protection from high-tech dangers. The US’Souda Bay Naval Base in Crete also will be at the ready.

Intelligence—EUROPOL, INTERPOLand Scotland Yard are among the organizations cooperating with Greece’sOlympic intelligence units. Meanwhile, 80,000 athletes, journalists andofficials are to be given high-tech accreditation cards that also willserve as visas for travel within the European Union, representing an EUfirst. Member countries have agreed to closely cooperate on securityduring the Games as part of a new program for EU cooperation at largesporting events.

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