Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Security shield up and running ahead of Athens Games


Athens is ready to spy on the Olympics.

A vast network of street cameras, surveillance vans, underwater sensors and a blimp bristling with ultra-sensitive monitors was declared operational Friday, after Athens expanded its massive security operation with more money and a late plea for help from NATO.

The security shield developed by US Pentagon contractor Science Applications International Corp, or SAIC, is the centerpiece of a record US$1.5 billion operation to thwart a possible terrorist attack during the Aug. 13-29 Games.

Athens has also been receiving security assistance from the United States, Britain, Israel and four other countries, while NATO will send air and sea patrols and experts in biochemical weapons.

Alliance officials confirmed this week that Greece is seeking additional counterterrorism assistance -- a request likely to receive summary approval -- that could reportedly include 400 elite troops from the US.

"Greece is ready," Premier Costas Caramanlis said Friday. "Greece will host ... absolutely successful games in conditions of supreme safety."

That's quite a promise for the first summer Olympics after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. There have been numerous deadly attacks since then, including the March 11 bombings in Madrid, Spain, that killed 191 people.

"We have considered every possible scenario," Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said. "These include very extreme cases -- we're talking about World War III, things that exceed our imagination. But we are obliged to think about such things."

The security network that went into effect encompasses everything from small iris scanners that check the identities of employees at Athens airport, to large x-ray machines capable of looking through entire trucks.

It includes microphones listening for underwater swimmers in ports and cameras that can recognize the sound of a gunshot and automatically zoom in on it.

Fed into a security command center, images and audio will stream from more than 1,000 cameras in venues and main streets, police helicopters, spy planes and on an airship that began floating over Athens on Friday.

The blimp is also fitted with chemical "sniffers" and other secretive sensors. It will also help authorities communicate with 70,000 police and troops on the streets.

Added to SAIC's US$312 million surveillance system will be an extensive array of physical barriers, including double perimeter fences around key venues and concrete barriers to prevent car bomb attacks. NATO AWACS surveillance plans will help maintain a no-fly zone over Athens, while Patriot missiles may be called on to shoot down rogue planes.

The Olympic Village, which opened Thursday, will have police check points up to 3.5km from the entrance, 24-hour patrols, motion censors and the truck-scanning X-ray machine.

Anti-terrorism legislation has also been toughened, allowing police greater powers to snoop on cellular telephone use.

Completed after months of delays, the new security system will be partially tested Sunday during a police exercise to manage traffic between the city's main Olympic venues.

The drill involves public transport networks and use of restricted Olympic traffic lanes for buses carrying athletes and other accredited vehicles.

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