NEWS

Security chief sees global security role for Athens after the Olympic Games

The pressures of trying to protect the Olympics has turned tiny Greece into a «superpower» of security knowledge that could be harnessed in the fight against terrorism and other threats to international events, Greece’s top law enforcement official said yesterday. Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in an interview with The Associated Press, sketched out proposals for a Greek-run international security institute that could offer expertise and assistance to other small nations. The idea was an early hint of how the nation may seek to extract some dividends from its budget-breaking Olympic security plans – if the August 13-29 Games take place without mishap. «We are going to have after the Olympic Games the most educated, the most trained personnel in the police… and counterterrorism,» Voulgarakis told the AP. «I believe that Greece will be, let us say, a superpower from this point of view. (This is) something we can export.» Voulgarakis said government officials have discussed establishing a security institute to help with major events such as sports competitions, concerts and other gatherings. The foundation for such an agency would be Greece’s close cooperation with a seven-nation security task force that includes the United States, Britain and Israel. NATO, Russian forces and the European Union are also closely involved. The US ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller, and others have described the Olympics as a test for future international security planning. «We have benefited from the experience that the most important nations have,» said Voulgarakis, who met with US officials in Washington last month. «I believe Greece can give this experience back to the world by having this institute… We can give it back as we took it from others. We paid a lot for that.» But Greece’s reputation – and any possible post-Olympic benefits as a security clearinghouse – depends on the outcome of the Games. Any gaps exploited by Al Qaeda or other terrorist networks could devastate the vital tourism industry and leave Greece with little to show after spending more than 1 billion euros to safeguard the Games. Some government officials have recently questioned whether staging the Olympic homecoming was worth the costs and hassles. Greece, with about 11 million people, is the smallest nation to host the Games since Finland in 1952 – a time when size and worries about the Games were far less daunting. Voulgarakis declined to engage in hindsight about the Olympic burdens. But he noted that security planning drills will be held until the final moments. The next exercises, planned for early this month, will concentrate on guarding the busy port of Piraeus, where cruise ships will serve as floating hotels for dignitaries, officials and others. Some terrorism experts have speculated that Al Qaeda could be plotting a maritime attack on ports or shipping lanes. Voulgarakis described the drills as «very big» and involving both police and armed forces, but he declined to give specific scenarios or objectives. Previous drills, he said, involved possible attacks by Al Qaeda terrorists, Chechen rebels and even «crazy» people. Members of the seven-nation task force will be on hand as observers, he added. He also noted Greece had to look outside its borders for help against Al Qaeda and similar groups and acknowledged no place is immune from attack. «We (didn’t) confront these types of threats – up until now,» he said. But he reiterated that foreign security agents, including Americans, will not be allowed to carry firearms. «They will not, definitely,» he said. «Otherwise, why are we spending a billion euros? What’s the point?» It only took a few small bombs, however, to severely rattle the expensive security preparations. On May 5 – the start of the 100-day countdown to the Games – three bombs damaged a police station. The blasts were claimed by a Greek radical group that complained about the stringent Olympic police measures, and said the «famous dogma of total security is meaningless.» Voulgarakis reiterated his opinion that local extremists would not likely threaten Olympic venues, but said authorities would also apply heavy security around tourist sites, parks and other parts of the city during the Games. «All of Athens is a venue,» he said. «Venue, for us, is not only (the main stadium complex). It’s the Acropolis, for example. It’s a radio antenna… We are going to police all the venues and, by the term venue, we include all the buildings.» Such blanket security risks sapping the festive sideshows that have become hallmarks of the Olympics, some critics say. «It is obvious that we are living in a very strange environment – an environment that… has dangers not known in the past,» said Voulgarakis. «We do our best. We do whatever is humanly possible. The point is: The international community has to decide whether this celebration has to be kept or not. I believe it has to be kept because it is something unique. So no matter the cost, no matter the effort, no matter the test… We have to continue to have the Olympic Games.»