FBI director to examine Olympic security up close

WASHINGTON – FBI Director Robert Mueller is visiting Athens this week to get a first-hand look at what some US officials see as inadequate preparations to protect the 2004 Summer Olympics from terrorism. US counterterrorism officials are worried Greece is not acting quickly enough to complete surveys of Olympic venue vulnerabilities, planning for hardening of potential targets and figuring out how to limit access. In one recent example, US officials discovered the Greeks had not considered the possibility that snipers might use hillsides near event sites to fire upon athletes or spectators, said a senior American counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Questions have also been raised about whether Greece is ready to handle large-scale casualties if a biological or chemical attack occurs. Mueller’s visit tomorrow will include meetings with key Olympics planners and Greek officials as well as a review of the status of anti-terrorism measures, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity on Monday. The FBI did not immediately release any details about his visit. The counterterrorism official said US authorities believe adequate security will be in place by the time the Games begin next August, but that the plan will only come together «at the last minute. Not the way we would do business, obviously.» The Summer Games will be the first Olympics outside the United States since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 2002 Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City, a much smaller and less accessible city that still required 15,000 security officials, including hundreds of National Guard members. It is estimated that there will be some 40,000 police officers on duty in Athens during the 2004 Games. Violence last struck the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, when a pipe bomb exploded at the Centennial Park site away from the sports venues and killed one person. The worst attack came in the 1972 Games in Munich, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes they had taken hostage. The Greek government, which has battled anti-Western terrorists internally for years, insists security planning is comprehensive and that the Games will be safe. Earlier this month, Olympics organizers announced a 25 percent increase in the security budget for the Athens Games, to $755 million. The first big test of security operations and equipment is scheduled for December. There is little doubt among counterterrorism experts that the Games, drawing 10,500 athletes from some 200 countries and hundreds of thousands of spectators, present an inviting target for terrorists. «The Olympics would be a prime way for terrorists to create worldwide headlines in a quick and easy fashion,» said Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland counterterrorism expert. Officials at the US Olympic Committee did not immediately return a call seeking comment about Greek security preparations. The FBI has played a key strategic planning role in the last several Olympics, including those held outside the United States. Among other things, the FBI’s counterterrorism division is helping to set up intelligence-sharing arrangements among the various law enforcement and security agencies involved in the Games. The FBI is also working to secure venues and to create a rapid communications system in the event of an attack. US officials have said about 100 security officers will accompany US athletes to the Games. The key to all of this planning is to envision beforehand what a terrorist might do and put protections in place well in advance, said Robert S. Fleming, a Rowan University management professor with expertise in emergency preparedness. «The main thing is to identify all the possible vulnerabilities you face, and go through and rate them by frequency of occurrence and severity,» Fleming said. «Basically, everybody needs to be on the same page.»