Sun 23 May, 2004 04:53 pm
Fears grow over security chaos at Athens Olympics in terrorist crisis
American athletes voice concerns about al-Qaeda and Greek games despite billions spent on safety measures
Denis Campbell in Athens
Sunday May 16, 2004
Visitors taking a ferry from Athens's ancient port of Piraeus this August should not be surprised to see bubbles rippling the surface, oxygen tanks protruding here and there, and dark figures in wetsuits carrying guns swimming below.
Frogmen armed with M-16 rifles and grenade launchers are the most dramatic symbol yet of Athens's desperate desire to convince a sceptical world it can ensure that al-Qaeda or similar groups do not turn the Olympic Games into another 11 September, Madrid or Bali. The divers of the Greek navy are intended to protect the VIPs and corporate bosses staying on luxury yachts moored in Piraeus Harbour, such as South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki.
The skies will be guarded by helicopters and spy planes and an airship, the sea by submarines and US battleships. Around the host city some 1,600 close-circuit cameras will monitor the movement of people and vehicles. Rigorous searches will produce long queues at venues. In all, 70,000 security personnel will be involved - four times more than were used at the 2000 Sydney Olympics - and the whole operation will cost around £675 million, five times as much as Sydney.
But with less than three months to go before the opening ceremony on 13 August, serious questions persist about Greece's ability to keep 10,500 athletes and two million spectators safe at the biggest sporting event on earth. Despite Greece insisting that the event 'will not be 100 per cent safe but 120 per cent safe', Britain, America, Australia and Israel betray a mixture of anxiety and fear.
'An Islamic terrorist attack on the Olympics is what everyone is planning against. That's why all this money is being spent, equipment brought in and training done,' said an official from one of the nervous nations. 'If you wanted to capture the world's attention, the Olympics, which are watched by four billion people, would be a good way to get it.'
The official reels off a list of weaknesses in Greece's anti-terrorist strategy - the most hi-tech in sporting history - before adding pointedly: 'Their security plans are still a work in progress. They aren't ready yet. There's a lot of things still to be done before the security arrangement can be put fully into place, like finishing building all the venues so that cameras and scanners can finally be installed'.
The sense of dread is strongest in America. Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, has singled out Athens as a likely al-Qaeda target. Any judgment of whether security would be adequate by August would be 'premature', he said - hardly a vote of confidence in the Greeks.
Others speak more plainly. Mark Spitz, the swimmer who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, last month aired the fears of many athletes when he predicted a pullout by the entire 700-strong US team over security fears. 'We know there is a high degree of probability that something could happen in Athens', he said. 'Would it be political suicide to send a team there if you were the Bush administration?'
Tennis champion Serena Williams added to the debate in the US, where 52 per cent of people believe a strike in Athens is likely. She admitted that she and her sister Venus might not defend their Olympic doubles title because 'I think my security and my safety and my life is a little bit more important than tennis, and so if it became a real concern to where I personally wouldn't feel comfortable, then I wouldn't go to Athens'.
Others share Robert Mueller's apprehensions. Although Tony Blair expressed 'every faith' in Greek preparations on 6 May, the day a left-wing Greek terror group exploded three small devices outside an Athens police station, some of his most senior ministers do not agree. At least one cabinet minister has privately expressed concern for the safety of the UK's 350 athletes. The 24-hour armed guards Greece promised for athletes from 'high-risk' countries like Britain and Israel, have not ended such disquiet.
Australia has asked to bring its own armed officers - America and Israel want the same - and they will have two jets on standby during the Games to remove their athletes if there is any incident. The 6 May bombs prompted South Korea's gymnasts to rethink plans to hold their pre-Olympic training in Athens. They now hope to use Ukraine or Romania instead.
However, Craig Reedie, a British member of the IOC, is more relaxed. 'No Olympic organising committee has ever taken security as seriously as Athens. Perhaps that's inevitable because we live in a very dangerous world. You can't be anything but impressed by the effort that has gone into security. The British Olympic Association's view is that everything that could be done is being done. We're comfortable with the arrangements that have been put in place, and there's no apprehension, anxiety or fear among our athletes.'
This is most of the article from the Observer.
Would you go to the Olympics in Athens? ARE you going?
Do you think the security is over the top...correctly adjusted to the threat...or not enough?
Is Greece lax with this issue, or have they gotten a bum rap?
I don't think a terrorist attack in Athens is preventable.
I am not sure if it's a good idea whether we should participate in the Olympics, or if the Olympics should be held at all.
It seems like a worse idea, however, for us not to go or for them to be cancelled ("terrorists win" and all that).
It seems to me that we could sure use a little national pride infusion, and yet, the fact that some of our athletes will wave a flag on the track, and get up on the medal stand, place their hand on their heart, and mouth the words to the national anthem is going to put them squarely in the bull's eye.
It's going to be terribly tragic if something awful happens.
Then there is the matter of one of the professionals -- say, a basketball player -- suddenly deciding it's not worth it, and dropping out.
Then another, and another, like dominoes.
And we wind up with a small representation of less than our best.
I just really have no idea whether it's a risk worth taking or not.
I guess you stated both sides of the 'to go, or not to go' issue pretty well.
I hate for them to win, and affect participation--but I'd hate a successful attack so much more.
I'm going to be very concerned.
So sad for the athletes, who have made training such an important part of their lives...
My son was in training for the Olympics once and I've thought how I would feel as a parent if he was on this year's team. I know I would feel a sense of relief if he did not go. I would be proud of him if he went anyway.
I felt the same way when he went to Pensacola for pilot's training. I was relieved when he didn't have to see combat. I would have been proud of him if he had.
I will feel a sense of relief if our 2004 Olympics team doesn't go to Athens. I will also feel that the terrorists will celebrate a victory at being able to scare us away.
It's almost impossible to find a win-win solution this time.
With talk like this the terrorists are winning and laughing.
In fact in calling them "terrorists" we are achieving their goals for them-----they want to strike terror in the minds of their opponents.
I think we should call them murderers hiding behind a religion.
Well the P.C. crowd won't let us attach the proper adjectives
Yes----but I think I see signs that being politically correct and the ACLU are losing ground-----at least I can hope. God I hate to be put in the position of hoping about anything.
Well, just replace the word "terrorists" with your phrase "murderers hiding behind a religion," and deal with the issues thereof. It's ungainly, but hey, if it floats your boat you can copy and paste, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V.
With talk like this the murderers hiding behind a religion are winning and laughing.
I will also feel that the murderers hiding behind a religion will celebrate a victory at being able to scare us away.
I don't think a murderer hiding behind a religion attack in Athens is preventable.
'An Islamic murderers hiding behind a religion attack on the Olympics is what everyone is planning against.
The official reels off a list of weaknesses in Greece's anti-murderers hiding behind a religion strategy - the most hi-tech in sporting history - before adding pointedly: 'Their security plans are still a work in progress.