The Greek government and Olympic organizers on Saturday denied a report that undercover agents found serious lapses while testing security for the 2004 Games.
“There have already been tests carried out by Greek police officers … with the best possible results, one whole year before the games,” government spokesman Christos Protopapas said.
Protopapas was responding to a report in Saturday’s Washington Post that quoted unidentified American intelligence sources as saying undercover agents twice smuggled fake bombs past security checkpoints in Athens.
The newspaper reported that an agent disguised as a pregnant woman carried a fake bomb through a checkpoint, and another agent planted a fake device on a ferry.
The reports, from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, also cite disorganized police forces, breakdowns in maritime patrols and serious concerns over the pace of anti-terrorism planning, the newspaper said.
“Of course, these scenarios mentioned by the newspaper have no bearing on reality,” Protopapas said. He said “organized commercial interests” seeking security contracts were behind the accusations that Athens was not prepared for terrorist threats.
ATHOC stressed security is a top priority and their efforts have been recognized by the IOC and by U.S. officials.
“Aside from any fantastic scenarios and exaggerations there is only one reality: Greece is preparing very hard to organize absolutely safe Olympic Games in 2004,” organizers said in a statement.
Athens has budgeted a record $600 million for security at the games and is being assisted by the United States, Britain and five other countries. The government said Thursday it hoped to stick to its overall budget of $5.3 billion for the games, but said an increase of 5 percent to 10 percent was possible to cover security.
THE WASHINGTON POST
According to Saturday’s issue of the Washington Post, intelligence reports circulating within the U.S. government describe a number of Greek security lapses, including one that allowed a test agent disguised as a pregnant woman to carry a mock bomb through a checkpoint and another to plant a fake device on a ferry. The reports, from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, also cite disorganized police forces, breakdowns in maritime patrols and serious concerns over the slow pace of counterterrorism planning.
Security personnel from around the globe said an August test revealed serious, if correctable, deficiencies.
“All the big stuff got through,” one U.S. official responsible for security planning said to the Washington Post, referring to guns and mock explosives used in the test. “If you can get the big stuff through, getting chemical and biological stuff through is no problem.”
“It took them [the Greeks] a long time to go into action,” told the “WP”, Arik Arad, former director of security for El Al Airlines. “Lately they are taking it seriously.”
With major athletic events long a target for terrorists — one consultant has catalogued more than 100 attempted attacks — and hostilities continuing in Iraq, Greece will likely spend close to $1 billion on security, nearly double the expenditures for the Games in Sydney and Salt Lake City, said George A. Papandreou, the Greek foreign minister, who spoke to Washington Post reporters and editors this month.
Greece has hired as consultants the world’s leading terrorism and security experts, who have brought in teams to conduct risk assessments of all the Olympic venues.
A state-of-the-art command and control center will anchor a wide-ranging policing network. Thousands of closed-circuit surveillance cameras will be scattered throughout the city and event areas.
Law enforcement and intelligence agents from Israel, Germany, Britain and the United States, among others, are in Athens to train colleagues in counterterrorism measures, including how to prevent or respond to a chemical or biological ttack. Forty-five thousand people, from the Greek military to citizen volunteers, firefighters and private security contractors, will be deployed throughout the country. Some will be trained by foreign experts in VIP protection, evasive driving and hostage rescue.
“Security is on track,” Papandreou said.
The United States has established an interagency task force with members from the CIA, the State Department, the FBI and the Pentagon to troubleshoot security problems and observe progress in Athens. In addition, Ambassador Thomas J. Miller, who was scheduled to end his diplomatic tour in Greece before August, will stay there through the Olympics.
Some officials say that intelligence reports nearly a year before a major event such as the Olympics are designed to highlight problems and that security officials are accustomed to resolving such issues.
“They have come a long way. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely,” said an administration official involved daily with the war on terrorism. Many of the shortcomings, especially the training of Greek personnel, are being corrected, he said. In the meantime, he said, the administration is “actively engaged with the Greeks because we’ve known it was going to be a problem.”
The Greek leadership, which at first shunned outside involvement and insisted that Greece could safeguard the Games, has undergone something of a sea change in attitude and is now accepting more aggressive assistance from other governments. Despite the cooperation, however, it is still a struggle to ensure that the Greeks remain vigilant and on schedule, officials told the Washington Post.