NEWS

USA is confident Greece can conduct safe Olympics

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said Tuesday it believed Greece could and would ensure safety at the upcoming 2004 Olympic Games in Athens despite reported major lapses in pre-Olympic security tests. «We think the Greeks have the will and the resources to hold a secure and successful Olympics and we have every confidence that they will,» State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. «We’ve been working very well and very closely with the Greek government,» he said when asked about a report in Saturday’s Washington Post newspaper that painted a bleak picture of the Olympics security operation. The Post, quoting confidential US and Greek reports and unnamed officials, said that security for the Games is «much more porous» than either government was willing to admit and that plans to protect Olympic athletes and spectators were «beset by problems.» The paper cited intelligence reports circulating within the US government that describe a number of security failures during practice runs. In one, a test agent disguised as a pregnant woman managed to carry a mock bomb through a checkpoint, according to the Post. In another, an agent was able to bring a false explosive device aboard a ferry, the paper said. The paper also said that reports from various law enforcement and intelligence agencies assisting Greece with security precautions had pointed to disorganized police, breakdowns in maritime patrols and deep concerns over the pace of planning to deal with potential terrorist attacks. Boucher would not comment on the specifics of the lengthy front-page Post report but did acknowledge that tests of Greece’s counterterrorism capabilities were under way with an eye to closing any gaps there may be in security. «Exercises to highlight potential problems are undertaken with a view to solving the issues by the day the Games open,» he said. The 2004 Olympics are to open August 13 in Athens. Since the city was awarded the bid, there have been concerns about safety at the Games. In February, US President George W. Bush asked Congress for $4.5 million to «to provide an unprecedented level of security protection and assistance» for US athletes at the Games. Since then, however, US officials, including the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator Cofer Black have praised Greek efforts to secure the Games. Black is now in Athens working with Greek officials on Olympic security, Boucher said.