Olympic security

The savage terrorist attacks in Istanbul have catapulted the issue of next year’s Olympic Games security to center stage. In fact, this aspect had never really been forgotten. Greece has in recent years come under incessant international pressure on this matter, both from the International Olympic Committee and from assorted other security merchants and counterterrorism agencies in the United States. Security threats are, no question, a real and complex issue. Although Greece has a good name in the Islamic world, this alone cannot guarantee its safety. By its nature, such a global event is a tempting target for terrorists. The Al Qaeda network is no exception. This is the real threat, and not the leftovers of leftist urban guerrillas. Greece has every reason to take all possible measures to prevent a terrorist strike during the 2004 Games. To this end, it has requested the close cooperation of all services that possess the precious experience and expertise. Moreover, Athens has expressed its willingness to improve existing security plans and to spend huge amounts of money to purchase the requisite infrastructure. Overall, Athens has complied with outside security demands, even where such measures are unnecessary, so that it does not become vulnerable to criticism. Security experts let their imaginations run wild so that they can accommodate every possible terror scenario. They demand – and most often succeed – in having everything sacrificed in the name of security. Three AWACS aircraft will be flying in the sky, a considerable number of fighter jets will be on the alert, while missile batteries will be on standby. NATO’s fleet will patrol the eastern Mediterranean. However, the biggest danger lurks elsewhere, that is the event of bomb attacks and the use of chemical or biological weapons. Tracking down suspects at this level is more complex because of the large number of visitors and the technical difficulty of carrying out thorough individual searches. Inevitably, European Union citizens coming from Schengen countries will receive different treatment, even if the principles of free movement foreseen by the treaty were to be lifted during that period. Barring the operational snags caused by security concerns, a broader question still remains to be addressed: Is the Olympic spirit really compatible with a climate of exaggerated fear? What is called for is to take all necessary security measures without injuring the festive atmosphere of the world’s biggest sports event.