Athens Goes 'Sci-Fi' for Olympics Security ; the Host City Has Spent $1.5 Billion on Antiterrorism Efforts for the Games, Which Open Friday

By Coral Davenport Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

Athens Goes 'Sci-Fi' for Olympics Security ; the Host City Has Spent $1.5 Billion on Antiterrorism Efforts for the Games, Which Open Friday


Coral Davenport Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It sounds like something from a futuristic fantasy: a vast computer surveillance network with thousands of hidden cameras and microphones that analyzes dozens of languages for terrorist chatter. It also includes chemical sensors that can pick up the first whiff of a biological attack, cameras that swivel and zoom at the sound of a gunshot, and a web of underwater cables and infrared cameras that detect the slightest threatening movement.

It's not a scenario from a Steven Spielberg blockbuster - rather, it's just a fraction of the biggest security network ever put in place for a nonmilitary operation: the $1.5 billion international effort set to protect Athens during the first post-9/11 summer Olympics.

"Athens' measures are unprecedented in history. We have had to redefine Olympic security, with the most complex planning for it ever. The budget alone is over four times that of [2000 host] Sydney's security," says Col. Lefteris Ikonomou, spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Public Order.

There is far more in place than high-tech gadgets. This Olympics will also be protected by an arsenal of Patriot missiles, AWACS planes, US battleships, and 70,000 police officers.

Another Olympic first is the level of international involvement in security. Analysts point out that Athens' need for extraordinary safety measures comes not only from its post-9/11 timing, but also from its volatile location at the crossroads of the Balkans and the Middle East, and its porous borders, especially its nearly 10,000 miles of coastline.

Security for the 2004 Games was planned with the input of newly formed international Olympic security advisory group, which includes members from the US, Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Israel, and Australia. NATO troops have been called in to protect Greece's borders and airspace, with a focus on coastline surveillance.

With all these measures in place, "it's impossible to say that there are 100 percent guarantees of security, but we can say that Athens is probably the safest city in the world right now," says Theodore Couloumbis, an analyst at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, echoing a favorite statement of many Greek politicians.

But experts say there are still causes for concern. One may be the much-vaunted $312 million software network itself. It was installed by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), based in San Diego, which says it's the most complex such system it has ever built. SAIC representatives have also said that Athens' infamous Olympic construction delays led to major hold-ups in installing the software, and that a system that would normally take two to three years to install was rushed into place in only one year. …

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