Greece bolsters Olympics security

Foreign experts called in to help keep Games safe

Strategies

July 25, 2004|By Raymond Bonner | Raymond Bonner,New York Times News Service

To come or not to come. That is the question.

For all the vacillating about Olympics security, the answer may depend on one's perspective, for Athens, Greece, during the games is either going to be the most dangerous place in the world -- or the safest.

While no intelligence agency has picked up any specific threat by al-Qaida or any other group, no one will deny that Athens is a tempting target.

But aside from the failure to complete the facilities on time -- a serious shortcoming that will not allow for testing of security measures -- the steps being taken by the Greeks to prevent a terrorist attack are extraordinary, quite probably without equal for a public event.

After first insisting that they did not need outsiders telling them what to do or how to do it, the Greeks have turned to a consortium of seven foreign countries -- including the United States, Britain, France and Israel -- and are following their advice closely.

American pilots will fly Awacs planes; U.S. Navy frogmen will swim in the port of Piraeus, where the big ships carrying the VIPs will berth; American-supplied radiation detection devices will be deployed by guards along Greece's borders to keep out anyone trying to smuggle in a so-called "dirty bomb" -- a crude nuclear device.

The Czechs, who are considered the most skilled and experienced in responding to chemical and biological attacks, are sending a team. Mingling in the crowds will be security agents who have been trained to spot suspicious characters. And supersensitive cameras are being installed to help spot known terrorist suspects.

Some experts suggest visitors can reduce their risks by staying away from less secure public places that terrorists might find as attractive as tourists -- for example, Syntagma Square and any of the city's myriad outdoor restaurants. But then, of course, they would miss the real Athens -- the city that went wild celebrating the improbable Greek victory in the European Soccer Championships in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 4.

Athens' new, gleaming subway, security experts say, could also be a target. But after Madrid, if not before, the same could be said for the London Underground, the Paris Metro and the New York subway.

The Greeks have said repeatedly that they are going to put 70,000 soldiers and police officers on the streets, but this number should be taken with some skepticism, according to foreign advisers to the games, who say many of those deployed for security duty will be volunteers.

But while all these measures are being taken to protect Athens, the terrorists may decide to strike elsewhere. Only recently did the authorities in Sydney, Australia, discover that terrorists had considered an attack on the 2000 Games, but had abandoned the project, not because they thought security was too tight but because the group's leaders thought it would hurt their cause, senior Australian officials said recently.

In brief

Greyhound cuts bus service in 13 states

Greyhound Lines has announced that it will eliminate bus service to about 260 locations in 13 states from Illinois to Washington, beginning Aug. 18. The reduction represents about 10 percent of the company's stops in the United States, said Kim Plaskett, a Greyhound spokeswoman.

The service cuts are the first in a nationwide system restructuring that will occur over the next two to three years. Greyhound's aim is to focus more on short- and medium-haul traffic.

The states affected by the cuts include the entire West Coast. A listing of the communities that are losing service, along with the nearest alternative stops, can be found at www.greyhound.com (click on the link under Service Advisory).

-- Associated Press

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