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Newz Forum: OLYMPICS: Athens is the safest place

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posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 01:50 PM
Amid gun-toting police, Patriot missile batteries and circling surveillance planes, fears of a terror attack seemed muted on the eve of the opening ceremony for the Athens Games.

Security officials said they were confident Thursday that their measures -- unprecedented in scope -- would keep residents and Olympic visitors safe.

Greek Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, who is overseeing efforts to protect Olympic venues, athletes and visitors, said he is convinced the games are in no danger.

"As you know, we don't go on gut feeling, but on logic supported by all available information, by an evaluation of danger based on a combination of different facts, by cross-checking specific details,'' Voulgarakis said Thursday in an interview with Athen's Skai Radio.

Security officials in Europe said the chatter between terror groups has dropped in recent weeks, following the capture of some 30 al-Qaida suspects in Pakistan.

"Based on all this, there is nothing to indicate that Greece is in any danger,'' Voulgarakis said.

Analysts say that Greece, a low-profile member of the European Union that opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year, isn't itself a prime target for terrorists. But the Olympics themselves, with their international appeal, nonstop global media coverage and close confines, provide a tempting terrorist platform.

The $1.5 billion Olympic security package includes about 70,000 personnel and a massive array of surveillance equipment, including undersea sensors, street cameras and a sensor-laden blimp. NATO also is providing sea patrols and AWACS surveillance planes.

"We are spending four times more on security than the Sydney Games and 20 times more than Atlanta,'' Sports Minister Giorgos Orfanos said. In fact, the security costs for the Athens Games -- $1.5 billion -- equal the entire cost for the Sydney Olympics.

Athletes, who also usually have to worry about the glare of cameras and prying eyes of fans, say the additional layers of security will free them to concentrate on their sport.

"This is the safest place on the planet,'' said Martina Navratilova, who, despite her three decades on the pro tour, is making her Olympic debut on the U.S. tennis team. "I can't even get through without a pass. I may be famous, but I still have to have my pass.''

The security is in plain view.

Atop a hill just yards from the Hellenikon Sports Complex where athletes will play softball, baseball and field hockey, Patriot missile launchers are positioned to thwart a potential air attack, with the big, black launching tubes pointed at a 45-degree angle. A similar battery squats next to the Olympic Village.

As Greece's softball team was being introduced before playing a practice game Thursday, a helicopter hovered nearby and the security blimp drifted in the distance over Athens -- yet more signs of the times.

"It makes you realize the world isn't entirely safe,'' said former U.S. softball star Dr. Dot Richardson, working the games as a commentator for NBC. "As Americans, sometimes we take our safety at home for granted, but over here you realize that there are people at war.''

On Thursday, firefighters in chemical protection suits searched a central Athens post office that had been evacuated after suspicious white powder was spotted in the building. Authorities said the power appeared to be ordinary flour; preliminary tests showed no sign of toxicity.

At Athens' airport earlier in the week, a decontamination unit isolated a leaking package, but found the yellowish powder was harmless.

The games, which end on Aug. 29, come nearly a month after the July 15 end of a three-month truce offered by Osama bin Laden to European countries if they left Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.


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