Safe, secure Olympics with hard work, effort and cooperation

A major Greek-US exercise for Olympic Games security, code-named «Hercules’ Shield» ended a few days ago. Was it successful? Both sides are preparing their after-action reports. I think it was a tremendously useful learning experience. I think we learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Let me say exercises are an opportunity to challenge yourself, to make mistakes and fix them. Any time you do an exercise – and I’m not saying this one was full of mistakes – you want to design one that challenges you, that pushes you to the limit because if you can experience difficult situations during an exercise, that will put you in much better shape to deal with that situation if and when the real thing happens. That’s what it’s all about. I think the more you do these things the better off everyone is going to be. Were you encouraged by the outcome? I think it was a very useful exercise. I try to avoid subjective words such as encourage, not because I’m trying to avoid your question, I just think at this stage, less than five months before the Games, when you are talking about security, the key word to keep in mind is focus, to keep one’s eye on the ball. This is really important because it is so easy to get deflected. I believe that with a lot of hard work and effort you can have a safe, secure Olympics. There has been a threat hanging over the Games that British or US teams might not come if they don’t feel safe. My assumption is that we just had the US Olympic Committee leadership here and the working assumption is that we are looking forward to seeing our team here. I’ve seen some of the stories – one of them quoted me – I never talked to that newspaper. I would caution your readers to be careful. Another quoted a British newspaper, but when you read the entire statement it wasn’t what the headline said. This can deflect your attention from the task at hand. How has the change of government affected things? We knew there was going to be an election, we just didn’t know until a few months before when (it would be). We are working extremely effectively with the new government. We worked well with the old one. I think I’ve seen all the ministers, some of them many many times, who are involved in security questions. (Public Order Minister Giorgos) Voulgarakis, he is the key guy, a number of other ministries are deeply involved as well – Defense, Foreign Affairs, Merchant Marine, Communication, Transport. I know Voulgarakis called a meeting of all relevant ministries last week. My impression is that this is a very focused group of ministers who know what needs to be done and who are going about their business as quickly and efficiently as possible. What could give the world the message that security is being taken seriously? No doubt security is being taken seriously. We do live in a more dangerous world now than we did before the Sydney Games. I don’t think it’s useful to talk about the specifics of security preparations because that is just giving information to the bad guys. But I think in general, talking about security preparations, as you noticed I wasn’t at all reticent to talk about the exercise over the last couple of weeks, that was a very very elaborate exercise. It cost our government a good deal of money, but it was well worth it. I think what the Greek government is doing, talking about preparations without getting into detail, sends the right message. Wherever you live, your anxiety level is higher than it was four years ago. We just have to be honest about it. The bottom line is that with hard work, effort and cooperation, this can be a safe and secure Olympics. Is this message getting out? I think there are several things to keep in mind. Number one, this government and its predecessor were quite open in acknowledging the world is a dangerous place. Number two, they have been quite open in acknowledging it would be useful to have outside help. Number three, they were more specific in saying they would like to get NATO assistance. They have to work out details of what form it takes. Number four, something that I have seen as a very positive development in this country in the last six months, is the fact that you are calling on all resources now. A year ago there wasn’t much discussion of the military. Now there is a much more full discussion of the Greek military role. Number five is the fact that this is a very open public discussion. These are all positive indicators. It doesn’t guarantee a safe Games, but if any of those indicators were not positive then you would have a more difficult problem. Is there any chance of flight safety being upgraded from Category II to Category I before the Olympics? Sure, but it is up to the Greek civil aviation authorities. All we are talking about is applying ICAO standards. These are not special US criteria, they are international standards. If they can meet the standards then everyone will be thrilled to see them upgraded to Category I. Are they trying? Yes. How high is the bar for security going to be? Would the bar be lower for a Molotov cocktail going off outside a bank in the middle of the night, far away from the Games? You’ve got 40,000 Greek police, about 7,000 (I think) Greek military – their responsibility on the ground is to deal with these kinds of threats. To be very honest, yes we are concerned. We have 1,000 athletes and coaches and tens if not hundreds of thousands of US tourists, so yes we are concerned, but the bigger concern we have is international terrorism, Al Qaeda and hybrid groups. In domestic terrorism there has been a tremendous breakthrough in this country over last couple of years with the arrest and trial of November 17 and this is a tribute to the Greek police and judicial systems. Throughout this entire period, even though I had a lot of background experience, I didn’t say much. That was intentional, because my government was quite comfortable to let the Greek judicial system work its course, and justice was served eventually. So if it was just a matter of domestic terrorism, I don’t think you and I would be sitting here talking, you would be over at the Ministry of Public Order.