NEWS

Surveillance ready to go

Athens is ready to spy on the Olympics. A vast network of street cameras, surveillance vans, underwater sensors and a blimp bristling with ultra-sensitive monitors was declared operational on Friday, after Athens expanded its massive security operation with more money and a late plea for help from NATO. The security shield developed by US Pentagon contractor Science Applications International Corp, or SAIC, is the centerpiece of a record 1.2-billion-euro operation to thwart a possible terrorist attack during the August 13-29 Games. Athens has also been receiving security assistance from the United States, Britain, Israel and four other countries, while NATO will send air and sea patrols and experts in biochemical weapons. Alliance officials confirmed this week that Greece is seeking additional counterterrorism assistance – a request likely to receive summary approval – that could reportedly include 400 elite troops from the United States. «Greece is ready,» Premier Costas Karamanlis said on Friday. «Greece will host… absolutely successful Games in conditions of supreme safety.» That’s quite a promise for the first Summer Olympics after the September 11 terror attacks. There have been numerous deadly attacks since then, including the March 11 bombings in Madrid, Spain that killed 191 people. «We have considered every possible scenario,» Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said. «These include very extreme cases – we’re talking about World War III, things that exceed our imagination. But we are obliged to think about such things.» The security network that went into effect encompasses everything from small iris scanners that check the identities of employees at Athens Airport, to large X-ray machines capable of looking through entire trucks. It includes microphones listening for underwater swimmers in ports and cameras that can recognize the sound of a gunshot and automatically zoom in on it. Fed into a security command center, images and audio will stream from more than 1,000 cameras in venues and main streets, police helicopters, spy planes and on an airship that began floating over Athens on Friday. Chemical ‘sniffers’ The blimp is also fitted with chemical «sniffers» and other secret sensors. It will also help authorities communicate with 70,000 police and troops on the streets. Added to SAIC’s 255-million-euro surveillance system will be an extensive array of physical barriers, including double perimeter fences around key venues and concrete barriers to prevent car bomb attacks. NATO AWACS surveillance planes will help maintain a no-fly zone over Athens, while Patriot missiles may be called on to shoot down rogue planes. The Olympic Village, which opened on Thursday, will have police checkpoints up to 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) from the entrance, 24-hour patrols, motion censors and a truck-scanning X-ray machine. Anti-terrorism legislation has also been toughened, allowing police greater powers to snoop on cellular telephone use. Completed after months of delays, the new security system was partially tested yesterday during a police exercise to manage traffic between the city’s main Olympic venues. The drill involves public transport networks and use of restricted Olympic traffic lanes for buses carrying athletes and other accredited vehicles. Security hot spots include Athens’s main Olympic stadium, the Olympic Village and the nearby port of Piraeus, where many of the 90-odd heads of government and other dignitaries are expected to stay on luxury liners. Greece’s Foreign Ministry said British Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted an invitation to attend the opening ceremony. Other visitors will include US President George W. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush. But safety has also come at a cost, both financial and political. Greece originally planned to spend US$600 million on security, but that bill has nearly tripled. There have also been street protests against what critics see as excessive overseas involvement and police intrusion into citizens’ privacy. Anti-globalization campaigners have begun painting over surveillance cameras during protests expected to continue through the Games. «The government should take the necessary measures to safeguard the Olympics but it is hard to comprehend the excesses we have witnessed in security measures,» the Athens daily Ta Nea commented on Friday.