- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

Three bombs exploded outside a suburban Athens police station earlier this week, methodically timed to go off 30 minutes apart. In less than 100 days, American and other young athletes would have been within a mile of those blasts, which occurred in a densely populated district of “soft” targets, such as hotels and restaurants. Even more troubling is that even though there was an earlywarningofthe pre-dawn attacks, the police were unable to defuse the bombs prior to explosion.

Greek officials went into what has been a historical mode of pretending all is wellfortheAugust Olympics. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis tried to minimize the bombings by declaring that they were an “isolated incident, which does not affect whatsoever the Olympic preparation of the country.” The police downplayed the bombings by saying the evidence showed they were probably carried out by “local leftist groups.” As if a maimed victim of a bombing would react by saying, “It’s all right. I lost my arm because of a local, not international, terrorist.”

The point is that the Greeks, notwithstanding having spent $1.25 billion on security, are in denial that the 2004 Olympics, at the present pace and attitude, will be unsafe.

Not until March 2003 was the security contract signed. The Olympics had been awarded to Greece in 1997, but the government did not even ask for bids until the fall of 2002. Several companies withdrew bids when they realized that inside political maneuvering was interfering with the process, as time was becoming a major factor in a contractor’s ability to complete the job.

Because of the late contract award, there was no time for a comprehensive threat assessment. Thus, the original security project was based on an old threat assessment, antediluvian when one considers it was done prior to September 11.

Because the threat assessment was outdated, Greek officials were forced to revamp the security plan even as the system was being built. The new governmenthadtoplace emergency assistance calls to NATO and the United States immediately after taking office in mid-March of this year.

At that point, there was insufficient time to fix the basic system. Thus, Greece and the Olympics have opted for a piecemeal approach to a project that needs seamless connecting systems. It is similar to building a house by disregarding the original plans and deciding daily whether to add another wing.

Members of the international community are involved in a conspiracy of silence about their concerns. Bombings happen “regularly in Greece and probably would even if there were no Olympics thissummer,”whitewashed Tom Hastings, a State Department official. Although publicly expressing their lack of security concern, individual countries are planning their own security for their athletes, a plan that could put them in even greater danger. For example, Australia is considering sending armed guards to protect its athletes. Other countries are considering doing so as well. Such individual planning could result in a Wild West scenario. What happens if an Australian security guard pulls a gun? Will the Israeli guard know who is the good guy or the terrorist? The result could be chaos, or worse, an innocent getting killed.

CantheSummer Olympics be saved? Only if Greece and participating countries face reality. First, just like an alcoholic, everyone must admit there is a problem. Second, all participants must meet to discuss the problem and agree on a comprehensive and coordinated security plan. We want the 2004 Olympics remembered for theathletes,notfor tragedy.

Peter Spatharis is a Greek national and a defense consultant. Victoria Toensing is a Washington lawyer who supervised Justice Department terrorism cases in the 1980s.

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