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Olympic Fortress

DW staff (dre)July 28, 2004

Athens goes into overtime as officials set up missile batteries, coordinate multinational troops and put the finishing touches on a security system that still has a few bugs, just ahead of the Games.

Athens: a highly-fortified venueImage: AP

In a sign of how the Olympic Games have changed since the 2001 terrorist attacks, armed agents will for the first time shadow their country's athletes and dignitaries in Athens.

The US, Great Britain and Israel apparently pushed the hardest for the right to deploy their own security teams, which breaks with Olympic tradition. Greek officials have been trying to keep the news from getting out, and the Minister of Public Order continued last week to insist that Greek police and soldiers, alone, would carry weapons. But this week, government officials said that 24 foreign security officers have been allowed to carry guns, according to reports.

They join a multinational team of security experts and soldiers charged with protecting athletes and visitors at the Olympic Games.

Of all the concerns surrounding this year's summer games, terrorism occupies the top spot. Following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Athens was forced to spend four times more on security than Sydney did when it hosted the games in 2000. The bill is expected to be much more than the €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) now quoted by Greek government officials.

Multinational tapestry of security

Biological and chemical weapons detection specialists from the Czech Republic, a multinational fleet of boats patrolling the Greek coastline and around 400 US special forces troops -- technically under NATO command -- will watch over the Games.

NATO radar planes will patrol the skies above the Olympic sites, joining Greek police helicopters that are scheduled to fly over Athens around the clock. This week, security officials installed six Patriot missile batteries around Athens, Thessaloniki and the island of Skyros.

Linking everything together is a complex security system designed by the San Diego-based firm Science Applications International Corp., which created the security network for the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Security system not fully operational

Just weeks before the games are to begin, some experts are concerned that the software running the complex system of surveillance cameras, sensors and intelligence collectors is not fully operational. The New York Times reported last week that the relatively unsophisticated software failed in initial tests in early July.

Specialists have also been rushing to install cameras and sensors in Olympic sites, many of which were only finished in recent months.

Three helicopters, a blimp and close to 300 cameras have begun feeding images into the security network, and company officials remain optimistic that everything will be ready on time.

No such thing as completely safe

Greek police began moving many of their units into the Olympic Village on July 1. Subway stations and much of the Olympic complex are already under the watch of the estimated 70,000 Greek security personnel designated for the Games.

The head of Interpol, in a statement issued following a visit in late June, said that the government has made an "unfailing commitment to making these Games as safe as possible."

Still, Ronald K. Noble warned that "the world is a dangerous place, and it is never wise or possible to predict that there is no threat to any event or any public place."

Sicherheit für die Spiele
A US-Swiss airship is fitted with cameras and sensors to help provide security at the Athens Olympics.Image: AP