Giorgos Voulgarakis: ‘We did what was humanly possible’

Given that security has proved to be the most significant issue arising from the Olympic Games, the political head of the security forces and chief of the joint ministerial organization that will have to make crucial decisions in the case of any threat, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, is best placed to know what will happen in the final runup to the Games. In an interview with Kathimerini, Voulgarakis says penny-pinching is not permissible in the field of security, but he is quick to add that if he had signed the agreement for the supply of the electronic security system he would have examined the effectiveness of the airship. The minister notes that the authorities have not received worrying information about security threats to the Games, but adds that «we are obliged to take all necessary measures.» He attributes the rumormongering of some foreign media to the fact that such stories sell, and he defines the context in which NATO and the security authorities of foreign countries are cooperating. As for how the city will operate, Voulgarakis admits that this will depend to a large extent on the willingness of the public to adapt to the situation by using public transport. It is 20 days till the start of the Olympic Games. What stage are we at? Everything should be ready, but we are still talking about how preparations are going. Does that worry you? It’s not like that. Planning finished long ago and we are at the implementation stage. So I have an overall view which is absolutely positive. What worries me, or rather, what annoys me, is that 20 days before the beginning of the great celebration we are wasting our time on rumors and leaks which create a bad atmosphere instead of the opposite. You say that despite your repeated statements that the work of security is above all the province of the Greek authorities, the theme has constantly arisen of the presence of armed security escorts with foreign teams. Why is there this pressure? What will happen in the end? There is talk of secret agreements with certain countries, despite public announcements. To be completely frank, I have been surprised myself by the extent of this discussion which, in the end, is without content. There are so many leaks from circles, staff and officials that I can’t keep up with them. Greek responsibility Let me make it clear yet again that the management of and political responsibility for security belongs to the Greek authorities, which have done whatever is humanly possible so that the Games are held in a safe and peaceful environment. There will be no armed guards; besides, IOC protocol prohibits it. As for the security of the leaders of various states, that is governed by a special security protocol based on the principle of mutuality and is independent of the event which has made them travel. Does NATO’s contribution include an American force that will act in the case of a major terrorist attack? The Olympic security plan has foreseen every likely and unlikely scenario, even the most extreme. On that basis, therefore, any gaps in equipment, expertise, or staff encountered during readiness exercises have led us to resort to international help. This help consists of the exchange of information, equipment for dealing with radioactive and chemical threats, sea patrols outside Greek waters, aerial surveillance with AWACS-type radar and in specialist anti-terrorism staff who will be at our disposal if needed and only if we request them. But, I repeat, all the management is the responsibility of the Greek government. Being implemented Security is still the central issue of the Games. How much of the original security plan is complete? As you know, for us the Olympic Games have already started. July 1 marked the operational adjustment, the final trial and the start of implementing security plans and measures for the Olympic Games. We are adhering strictly to the timetable; our staff is highly trained and in place; we are ready. The C4i electronic security system should have been delivered at the end of May. What caused the delay? Will the system be 100 percent ready for the Games? The delivery of the system is a purely technical procedure. The C4i will operate in full, as planned, and when the operating centers are open we’ll be able to show them to journalists. Delays, not only in installing the security system but in completing the construction of the sports venues, have left little time – in some cases none at all – to test the security systems so as to check their capacity and any gaps or omissions. How can it be ensured that they will all work to perfection? Delays in delivering the projects did not affect our planning. Every venue that is delivered is searched and locked. There is sufficient time to test the security systems which, in any case, are not unfamiliar to the people using them. Is there time to familiarize security personnel with the operation of electronic systems in real conditions, as in many cases training takes place by means of simulation? The security personnel have been highly trained not only in simulated exercises but also at more than 30 test events, at which our people can use the equipment, deal with large crowds, and work, in short, in real conditions. All security staff have been at their posts since July 1. The final cost of security will be calculated when the Games are over. The original budget must have been re-evaluated. What is your estimate? One billion euros I can’t be more precise, but it must be around one billion euros, maybe more. You have expressed the certainty in the past that Greece can organize good Olympic Games. At this stage, with things as they are now, do you have the same view? From the beginning I believed that Greece would organize very good Olympic Games. Why should I change my opinion? The moment our government took power it activated the necessary mechanisms so as to speed up work 100 percent. The results of this demanding, intensive effort are becoming visible every moment. As for security in particular, we’ve said it before and I won’t tire of repeating that we have done everything humanly possible to provide the appropriate security environment. Doubts about airship When high winds forced the zeppelin down, talk began of wasted money. Was this an overreaction or was the contract you received overpriced? Could some elements in the system have been omitted as excessive and unnecessary? At the moment, security is probably the most important parameter for conducting the Olympic Games successfully. Penny-pinching is just not permissible in this area. The zeppelin is an ultramodern craft that will help us ensure the smooth operation of the city. It will be complementary, but not necessary. Nevertheless, to tell the truth, if I had been the one to sign the contract, I would have thought seriously about how effective it would be. Discussion about cameras after the Games There has been concern from various quarters that we have entered the era of Big Brother, with individual rights being sacrificed in the name of security. There is talk of exploitation of the increased need for security during the Games so as to establish an extensive surveillance system. What is your response? I have said frequently that this system is aimed at the smooth management of traffic and in general the improvement of living conditions in our city, and not at surveillance. That is why I believe this investment should be used productively, and of course in a way that respects the constitutional rights of citizens. We would like a dialogue to start after the Games among all relevant bodies, independent authorities and political parties about the context in which the system operates, so as to avoid any abuses.