- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

From combined dispatches

A little more than a week before the start of the Olympic Games, Athens’ security forces have their hands full following a rash of incidents yesterday in Greece.

Passes allowing vehicles into several venues, including the Olympic village, were stolen from the windshields of unattended official vehicles, a source told the Daily Telegraph of London.

Also, a homemade bomb exploded in the early morning near an electrical substation outside the Greek capital causing damage but no injuries, officials said.

Athens ordered a major boost in military involvement in security for the Summer Games, and Greece’s Public Order Minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis, denied reports there are problems with the Olympic surveillance system.

“We have done whatever is humanly possible to offer the appropriate environment for a grand sporting event,” Voulgarakis said. Athens will spend $1.5million on security for the Games.

An additional 35,000 military personnel have been assigned for “secondary” duties to help the 70,000 police and soldiers who will guard Olympic sites in Athens and three other Greek cities.

Col. Lefteris Ikonomou, a police spokesman, told the Associated Press the additional manpower will be used to guard railroad stations, borders and other areas, mainly outside Athens.

“The theater of operations is the entire country. … The entire military is on alert,” Ikonomou said.

Meanwhile, Athens’ main port of Piraeus was closed for nearly two hours as a navy minesweeper inspected the area where cruise ships will serve as hotels during the Games. Two Mexican reporters have sued Greece’s coast guard, claiming several officers arrested and beat them after spotting them filming at the Olympic port of Piraeus, according to court sources.

Authorities said it was not immediately clear whether there was a link between yesterday’s blast and the Olympics. The device, which police say was made with a cooking gas canister and a triggering fuse, exploded in the bathroom of a building near a substation in the town of Metamorphosi, six miles north of Athens. No electrical facilities were damaged, a government official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Homemade explosive devices are frequently set off by anarchist groups and others in Greece, often targeting banks, businesses and diplomatic vehicles. The attacks are mostly carried out at night and rarely cause injuries.

Because of the stolen parking passes, it has become a concern that terrorists driving a car or truck bomb could get through to the village.

“Some people left the doors of their cars unlocked and the thieves just came in a took the accreditations,” the source said of the thefts.

It is not clear whether the thefts were opportunistic or part of a plot to breach security operation.

Meanwhile, sources within the Athens Organizing Committee said plans to check the backgrounds of staff, contractors and volunteers were dropped because organizers ran out of time.

The problems began in mid-May, when organizers began recruiting 7,000 workers to undertake jobs from general receptionists to housekeepers for the Olympic village. But with so many people to process in only three months, the planned background checks were scrapped.

“Background checks require 20 days for each employee,” a source told the Daily Telegraph. “But [the organizing committee] was trying to hire so many people that the checks have not been done. In many cases the pressure to get staff meant that extremely poorly qualified people were hired, but we don’t know the backgrounds of many others.”

Now thousands of staff and contractors with unverified histories are moving freely around supposedly secure venues because formal accreditation passes, bearing photos of the holder, have still not been issued.

Instead, the organizing committee is relying on so-called “bump-in” passes that are handwritten and issued without photographs or background checks.

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