Leaders, dignitaries can use own guards

Updated: July 21, 2004, 3:09 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Olympic athletes will be under the exclusive protection of Greek forces, but foreign leaders and other dignitaries can use their own armed guards, Greece's top law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Nations fearing terror attacks at the Aug. 13-29 games have pressed Greece to allow special security details. The United States plans to send nearly 200 personnel to Greece, including State Department Diplomatic Security and FBI agents. Special U.S. anti-terrorist teams also will be there under the command of NATO, which is planning aerial patrols and other support.

Greek police sources told The Associated Press earlier this month that armed U.S. agents would watch over athletes during a pre-Olympic training camp on the island of Crete.

Also, a Greek official said Wednesday the games' security budget, already the highest in Olympic history, was now about $1.5 billion -- a 25 percent increase from previous estimates. Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas attributed the rise to more security demands by foreign governments, although he did not give specifics.

Much of that cost has been for surveillance equipment, new weaponry -- including coastal patrol boats -- and a $312 million contract with a U.S.-led consortium for a security network.

A spokeswoman at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, said Greece made another request for alliance assistance regarding "counterterrorism aspects." That request will be considered during the next few days, she said on customary condition of anonymity.

NATO approved Greece's first request concerning the use of AWACS surveillance planes, patrols in international waters, and elements of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons unit.

The spokeswoman emphasized that whatever NATO does to help, the Greeks are ultimately responsible for security.

A spokesman at the U.S. mission to NATO also said Greeks "have the lead on security" and referred questions about specific U.S. contributions to the Pentagon.

U.S. officials in Athens declined to comment on any plans for armed American agents outside NATO control.

Wednesday's statement by Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis was an apparent attempt to clarify the limits on outside armed security contingents planned by the United States and possibly other nations during the Summer Olympics.

But many details of the plan remained unclear, including whether countries can assign armed protection to athletes and officials outside competition venues.

"The visit from leaders of various countries are managed by a special security protocol," Voulgarakis said, noting the "rule of reciprocity" that allows Greek forces to accompany leaders and other on foreign soil.

But he added that Greek security is "exclusively responsible for the security of the sports delegations."

"Greek authorities ... have done everything humanly possible to have the Olympic Games in a safe and peaceful environment."

In Israel, a security adviser to the Israeli Olympic team said it was "correct and logical" for Greek officials to permit foreign guards and intelligence agents.

"I think every team since Munich [in 1972] was protected by the Shin Bet [security services] and there is nothing better than this," Assaf Hafetz, a former police commissioner, told Israel Radio.

Palestinian militants infiltrated the Munich Olympics and killed 11 members of the Israeli team.

Hafetz said he knew of no direct threats aimed at the Athens Olympics, but militant groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaida "have the willingness and the ability to attack at the games ... So you can't take just a defensive position, you must act on the offensive."

The issue of whether to permit foreign armed security agents with the Olympic teams remains highly sensitive.

Greek officials feel armed foreign guards would undermine their authority. They also worry foreign guards might overreact to such common occurrences as street protests, small firebombs planted by anarchists or motor scooters being used on sidewalks to avoid traffic.

The Athens Olympics -- the first summer games since the Sept. 11 attacks -- are viewed as a model for international anti-terrorist cooperation.

In addition to NATO, Greece has worked with a seven-nation security advisory group led by the United States and Britain.

The U.S. Olympic team has about 200 athletes in addition to trainers and others.

A senior Greek security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP last month that at least 45 U.S. agents will accompany the American athletes and support staff to Crete beginning early next month, and "about 24 of them will have a permit by Greek authorities to carry weapons."

The security force also will have dogs trained to detect explosives, said the source, who is familiar with the training camp. The official said FBI agents visited Crete recently to work out details of the security plan.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press