Pushed by U.S., Greece to allow troops at Olympics
Under intense pressure from the United States, Greece will allow 400 American Special Forces soldiers to be present at the Olympic Games next month under NATO auspices and will also permit American, Israeli and possibly British security officers to carry weapons, Greek and American officials said.
The delicate arrangements, which the officials say will not be formally acknowledged for fear of roiling anti-American sentiment, represent a significant departure from Olympic tradition, as well as from Greek law, which prohibits foreign personnel from carrying weapons within the country. Until now, the only nation known to have armed its security forces at the Olympics is Israel, whose agents have been carrying arms largely without prior approval from host countries since 1972, when Black September, a Palestinian group, killed Israeli athletes and officials in the Olympic Village in Munich.
In addition to the Special Forces, the agreements call for 100 armed American agents to be used largely as bodyguards for American athletes and dignitaries. The F.B.I. is also sending a hostage rescue team, as well as evidence-gathering and analysis personnel who will be pressed into service in the event of an attack. They, too, will be armed, said an American law enforcement official.
Despite the agreements, Greece and the United States are still in prickly negotiations over the rules that will govern the American security agents – how many there will be, what kind of weapons they can carry and when they can use them, and where they can operate, American and Greek officials said.
“I am certain we are going to be able to carry our guns,” an American official said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to own up to.” The Greeks had made a number of other concessions on security matters that the Americans will not admit to, he said. “We must do this in a way that gives the Greeks their national pride.”
The issue of American agents’ being allowed to carry guns is extremely delicate here. Feelings about national sovereignty are strong, and the news media harshly criticize any government that makes concessions to the United States, or is seen to be compromising Greek sovereignty. The Greek government, which continues to state publicly that no weapons will be allowed, has also been worried that if it is publicly known that United States forces are going to be carrying weapons, other countries will demand similar rights. The Greeks have had serious discussions with other European countries, principally Germany and Spain, Greek and European officials said. Both have now agreed not to send armed escorts.
Intelligence agencies have not picked up information that Al Qaeda is planning an attack at the Games, officials from several countries said in interviews over the past few days, and they expressed confidence that the extraordinarily elaborate security provisions will leave the Olympic sites – and the 16,000 athletes and officials – secure.
The United States and other NATO countries, along with other nations, are deeply involved in the vast security plans for the Games, which the Greek government estimates will cost $1.2 billion. The safety net involves Awacs planes; United States Navy frogmen in the port of Piraeus, where the ships carrying V.I.P.’s will dock; radiation detection devices along Greece’s borders; and cameras in stadiums and elsewhere to look for terrorist suspects. The Greeks say they will have 70,000 of their own soldiers and police officers on the streets, but some foreign advisers caution that the number may be inflated by volunteers.
Still, the Americans are preparing for any eventuality.
The biggest concern remains that some Greek anarchist group will set off a small explosive device in a public area removed from the Olympics and cause a panic that could affect the Games. The Greeks are not sufficiently prepared to deal with this, foreign officials said.
If there is an attack, it is not clear yet, for example, how information will be presented to the public and to foreign embassies worried about their citizens, law enforcement officials from two Western countries said in telephone interviews.
Those were matters that were to have been discussed at a meeting this week of the seven-nation group that has been advising the Greeks on security. The meeting was canceled at the last minute, and no reasons have been given, said the officials, who were planning to attend.
The Greeks are worried that even though the armed American forces will all be required to operate in the presence of Greek police officers, there is potential for confusion. A European law enforcement official said he agreed with the concern. “If we all go in expecting to take care of security on our own, it’s going to be a disaster,” he said.
The Bush administration persuaded the Greeks to ask for NATO sponsorship for the American Special Forces contingent as a way to avoid stirring a political storm here, NATO officials said. Several NATO countries were opposed, one NATO official said, in part because NATO has no experience in counterterrorism work, but under pressure from the United States, relented.
What the Special Forces’ role will be is not clear, the official said. He said the forces would probably be used only in the event of a terrorist attack, to throw up a cordon around and then evacuate the American athletes, as well as American dignitaries, who are expected to include President Bush’s twin daughters and his father, the former president.
The separate force of bodyguards would come at least in part from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, Greek and American officials said. They will be on duty in the Olympic Village, and on buses escorting the American athletes to competitions, Greek officials said. The Americans have also sought permission to operate in public areas outside the Olympic area, but that has not been granted yet, Greek and American officials said.
The official Greek position is that no foreign police or security forces will be allowed to carry weapons because it is forbidden by the Greek Constitution, although earlier this month a Greek security official said that 24 American agents at a pre-Olympic American training camp on Crete would be armed.
Nearly every country in the world has a similar proscription against armed foreign agents, although they can be lifted in specific cases, usually through negotiations conducted by the ambassador.
Greek police and military units will provide all the necessary security, the Greek official said, and extra measures are being taken for the athletes from the United States, Britain and Israel. The risk level for these athletes is at level 4, of a maximum of 5, a Western law enforcement official said. Other nations that have supported the United States in the war in Iraq, like Poland, Italy, Australia, are at level 3, he said.
The United States, Britain and Israel have pushed the hardest to have their agents armed, Western and Greek officials said.
Israel will have at least two dozen armed agents in Athens, said one European official working with the Greeks on security issues. The Israelis were armed even at the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996, despite American and Olympic policies barring weapons in foreign security forces, an American law enforcement official said.
At the 2000 Games in Sydney, the Australian government declared that no foreign agents would be allowed to carry weapons. The Israelis ignored the ban, and the Australian government looked the other way, Australian officials said.
Some two dozen countries are sending extra security personnel to Athens, including Japan, Belgium, Germany and Italy, all countries whose athletes are thought to be at some risk because of support for the United States in Iraq. But they will not be armed, European and Greek security officials said.
Australia is not sending armed personnel, Australian officials said, even though it will have the second largest athletic contingent at the Games, sent troops to Iraq, and has been singled out for attack by Osama bin Laden. It has contracted with private Greek companies for extra security, they said.
Greek officials are greatly worried about the use of arms by foreign forces. The armed American agents do not speak Greek and do not understand Greek culture, they say. What is going to happen, asked one Greek official, when an American agent sees a car weaving in and out of traffic? It is not uncommon Greek driving behavior. But an American might think it is a suicide bomber, and shoot, one official said.
And even though plans call for a Greek policeman to always be present with armed American agents, the rules do not spell out whether in the face of suspicious behavior, the Americans have to get permission from the Greeks to fire. Autor: Raymond Bonner and Anthee Carassava