An ever-tighter 2004 security net

The Greek authorities recently embarked on an effort to set up an international security «shield» for the Olympic Games next year as the country enters the final stretch of preparations for security arrangements. The goal is to be able to immediately mobilize a series of mechanisms and agencies at international level if and when necessary, that is in the event of an attack (terrorist attack with biological or chemical weapons or even a major natural disaster) on such a scale that Greece would not be able to cope on its own. The last major map exercise, held in Stuttgart a month ago, was aimed at pinpointing, through the use of extreme-case scenarios, precisely those areas where Greece’s own technology, equipment and capabilities ended and the cooperation of other countries would become necessary. These areas have largely been found and now a marathon is under way in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry to find and mobilize the appropriate partners. Those in charge of security planning say it is not enough to count on what would be self-evident support from around the world in the event of an extreme situation during the Games. This is already considered a given, as people from the four corners of the earth will be in Greece at that time and each one of their nations will be trying to help as much as they can to keep their own people safe. What the authorities actually need is the ability to activate the appropriate mechanism by means of a single phone call to the right person at the right time. Communication That means a very high level of preparation and communication. In the initial stage, the right agency that is willing to help has to be established. That could be a scientific institute, a country’s information services, or a specialized medical care agency. In addition, the help required might involve specific equipment. After this decision is made, agreement has to be obtained regarding the provision of assistance where necessary. This means drawing up whatever bilateral agreements may be necessary and the assurance that during the crucial period of the Games, these agencies will be in a state of heightened alert and able to respond immediately with either human resources, information, equipment, specialized knowledge, or whatever else might be needed. In practice it means that apart from Greece, which will in any case be on high alert during the Games, a number of services and agencies in other countries will also need to be ready to swing into action immediately. Talks are currently under way regarding the way this cooperation will be handled as well as the possibility of establishing communication links at foreign embassies in Greece. According to those in charge, the decision to mobilize an emergency response will be taken by the civil crisis management center to be operating during the Games. The map exercise in Stuttgart gave everyone a good idea of the way this center will react in a crisis. Apart from operational readiness, extreme-case scenarios and the political handling of the situation have also been tested. Weaknesses were found in internal procedures, which will need to be corrected while there is still time. Bioterrorism (an attack with biological or chemical weapons) is seen as the main threat which would require the activation of the international shield. According to international studies, no country is in a position to deal on its own with the consequences of such an attack if the number of victims is over 1,000. In a case like this, help would be needed from other health services and possibly from scientists who are experts in biological warfare. Another example raised by the planning heads is that of a major blind terrorist attack by a group of foreign terrorists. For example, in Stuttgart a mock terrorist attack by «Chechen guerrillas» was tested. In this case the most appropriate authorities, at least at the level of information, are the Russians, who have both experience and the best collection of information on the activities of these groups. According to the situation, a choice is made as to which allies will be approached for help in dealing with threats from other sources, such as Islamic extremist groups. With regard to terrorism, the so-called asymmetrical threats, emphasis is being given to collecting and evaluating intelligence, a process that began some time ago. The National Intelligence Service has been operating by means of bilateral contacts or liaison officials, wherever necessary. The intelligence factor is considered to be particularly important as a major terrorist act requires long-term planning and can therefore be averted if intelligence exists and is evaluated correctly. So a network of mutual exchanges of information and research is being developed, to make use of even the most seemingly unimportant piece of information. Major natural disasters are also being taken into account, for example in the event of a powerful earthquake during the Games, when hundreds of thousands of foreigners will be staying in Athens. «Even if this happens, the kind of help we ask for will have to be the right kind. We will first have to ensure that we can depend on the help and from what quarter,» said a security official. «For example, we would not want forces from Britain or Germany who have never had to deal with this kind of emergency. It would be preferable to have the assistance of teams from Turkey or another country with experience of quakes.»