WASHINGTON (AFP) – The USA is planning a massive security operation to protect US athletes from possible terrorist attacks at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the State Department said yesterday. As part of its more than $8 billion budget request for fiscal 2004, the department is asking Congress for $4.5 million «to provide an unprecedented level of security protection and assistance» for the Games, the department said. Of that amount, $2.76 million is earmarked to fund the deployment of 150 special agents from the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to guard the US Olympic Team in Greece, it said. «This protection is above and beyond normal levels provided by (the State Department) for such events and is based on an assessment of available security resources and other factors related to the size and site of the event,» the department said. «To meet the requirement, 150 special agents will be assigned on temporary duty to Athens and environs prior to and during the Olympic Games,» it said. Some 600 US athletes are expected to compete in the Athens Games and will be accompanied by nearly 200 coaches and administrators, according to the US Olympic Committee. Security has been a serious concern for the USA at recent Olympic Games but it has never ordered such a mass deployment of extra security guards. The USA has in the past been critical of Greek counterterrorism efforts, at one point four years ago deeming it the «weak link in Europe» in combating extremist violence. Recent moves, in particular a crackdown on the November 17 terrorist group, have quelled that criticism, although US officials have repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of athletes at the 2004 Games.