Safety in Athens; Poor Security Planning Poses Danger

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Spatharis and Victoria Toensing, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Three bombs exploded outside a suburban Athens police station earlier this week, methodically timed to go off 30 minutes apart. In less than 100 days, American and other young athletes would have been within a mile of those blasts, which occurred in a densely populated district of "soft" targets, such as hotels and restaurants. Even more troubling is that even though there was an early warning of the pre-dawn attacks, the police were unable to defuse the bombs prior to explosion.

Greek officials went into what has been a historical mode of pretending all is well for the August Olympics. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis tried to minimize the bombings by declaring that they were an "isolated incident, which does not affect whatsoever the Olympic preparation of the country." The police downplayed the bombings by saying the evidence showed they were probably carried out by "local leftist groups." As if a maimed victim of a bombing would react by saying, "It's all right. I lost my arm because of a local, not international, terrorist."

The point is that the Greeks, notwithstanding having spent $1.25 billion on security, are in denial that the 2004 Olympics, at the present pace and attitude, will be unsafe.

Not until March 2003 was the security contract signed. The Olympics had been awarded to Greece in 1997, but the government did not even ask for bids until the fall of 2002. Several companies withdrew bids when they realized that inside political maneuvering was interfering with the process, as time was becoming a major factor in a contractor's ability to complete the job.

Because of the late contract award, there was no time for a comprehensive threat assessment. Thus, the original security project was based on an old threat assessment, antediluvian when one considers it was done prior to September 11.

Because the threat assessment was outdated, Greek officials were forced to revamp the security plan even as the system was being built. …