Olympic Games Security 2004: A Greek perspective

Posted in Terrorism | 08-Jul-04 | Author: John Nomikos

The summer 2004 Olympic Games will take place in Athens, Greece, on August 13-29, with 10,500 athletes from 202 countries participating and more than one million spectators expected. The Greek government is planning unprecedented security measures to deal with possible terrorist threats. Hosting a successful Olympic Games is a point of national pride and the highest priority for the Greek government.

However, the Athens Games are the first summer games to be held since Al Qaeda attacked the USA on 9/11, 2001. Al Qaeda links to the November 2003 bombings in nearby Istanbul (Turkey) and the March 11, 2004 bombing of a commuter train in Madrid have heightened the Greek government’s keen awareness of a possible international terrorist threat to the Olympic Games in Athens. On April 15, 2004, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden offered Europeans a “peace treaty” if they withdrew their troops from Muslim countries. His message said that “the door of peace will remain open” for three months. The Summer Games in Athens will occur just weeks after Bin Laden’s deadline expires, intensifying concerns that the Summer Games might be a high value symbolic European target for Al Qaeda. On April 19, Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security Tom Ridge included the Summer Games in Athens on a list of possible terrorist targets. (1)

Reflecting the seriousness of the matter, a seven-nation team – comprising the USA, UK, Australia, Spain, Germany, France and Israel – called the Olympic Advisory Group (OAG) – is pooling its experience and resources to assist the Greek authorities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also working with Greece in a bid to prevent any attack involving nuclear material. As a consequence, the Olympic Games 2004 will have the highest security budget in Olympic history, having invested 1.2 billion euros ($ 1.4 billion) on the most sophisticated security.

The Greek government will deploy 40,000 police officers, and 10,000 soldiers, 200 of whom have been trained to deal with nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. In addition, Greek Special Forces will deploy in their full strength to patrol sea and land borders. They will be tasked to “seal” the border with Turkey along the Evros River, and augment their patrols along the Turkish Aegean coast. Greek Special Forces are brigade-strength at best, and elements like the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Squadron will have their hands full trying to secure seaports like Piraeus and Thessalonica. Rumor has it that Israel has offered some of its own special operatives for joint patrols of the southern Aegean approaches.

A terrorist during the attack against the Israeli olympic team 1972 in Munich, Germany
A terrorist during the attack against the Israeli olympic team 1972 in Munich, Germany
At the end, Greece officially requested NATO assistance. The request included: AWACS planes for air policing and for dealing with a possible air attack; assistance with nuclear and biochemical defenses as well as intelligence; and Naval Force Mediterranean is expected to patrol the outer borders of Greece to the east, west and south of Athens. The force is made up of six frigates and two destroyers from several countries, including the USA and UK. In addition, the presence of around 50 high-ranking NATO counter terrorism officers in Greece’s central security command during the Summer Games is one of the items under discussion.

For those who have not noticed yet, Olympic Games in Athens has become the major test case of NATO’s new fangled role as the “guarantor” of Western security against “unorthodox threats” as stated at the NATO Summit in Turkey few days ago.

Overall, the Greek government is taking its own steps to provide the best possible security for the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens.

(1). Carol Migdaloviz, “Greece: Threat of Terrorism and Security at the Olympic”, CRS- Library of Congress, April 30, 2004, p: 3.