WASHINGTON — With less than 11 months to go before the Athens Olympics, security is much more porous than either the Greek or U.S. governments has acknowledged, and planning to protect the half-million athletes and spectators is beset by problems, according to confidential government reports and administration officials.
Intelligence reports circulating within the U.S. government describe a number of Greek security lapses, including one that allowed a test agent disguised as a pregnant woman to carry a mock bomb through a checkpoint and another to plant a fake device on a ferry. The reports, from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, also cite disorganized police forces, breakdowns in maritime patrols and serious concerns over the slow pace of counterterrorism planning.
Security personnel from around the globe said an August test revealed serious, if correctable, deficiencies.
"All the big stuff got through," one U.S. official responsible for security planning said, referring to guns and mock explosives used in the test. "If you can get the big stuff through, getting chemical and biological stuff through is no problem."
"It took them (the Greeks) a long time to go into action," said Arik Arad, former director of security for El Al Airlines. "Lately they are taking it seriously."
With major athletic events long a target for terrorists — one consultant has catalogued more than 100 attempted attacks — and hostilities continuing in Iraq, Greece will likely spend close to $1 billion on security, nearly double the expenditures for the Games in Sydney and Salt Lake City, said George Papandreou, the Greek foreign minister, who spoke to Washington Post reporters and editors this month.
Greece has hired as consultants the world's leading terrorism and security experts, who have brought in teams to conduct risk assessments of all the Olympic venues.
A state-of-the-art command and control center will anchor a wide-ranging policing network. Thousands of closed-circuit surveillance cameras will be scattered throughout the city and event areas.
Law enforcement and intelligence agents from Israel, Germany, Britain and the United States, among others, are in Athens to train colleagues in counterterrorism measures, including how to prevent or respond to a chemical or biological attack. Forty-five thousand people, from the Greek military to citizen volunteers, firefighters and private security contractors, will be deployed throughout the country. Some will be trained by foreign experts in VIP protection, evasive driving and hostage rescue.
"Security is on track," Papandreou said.
The United States has established an interagency task force with members from the CIA, the State Department, the FBI and the Pentagon to troubleshoot security problems and observe progress in Athens. In addition, Ambassador Thomas Miller, who was scheduled to end his diplomatic tour in Greece before August, will stay there through the Olympics.
Some officials say that intelligence reports nearly a year before a major event such as the Olympics are designed to highlight problems and that security officials are accustomed to resolving such issues.
"They have come a long way. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely," said an administration official involved daily with the war on terrorism. Many of the shortcomings, especially the training of Greek personnel, are being corrected, he said. In the meantime, he said, the administration is "actively engaged with the Greeks because we've known it was going to be a problem."
The Greek leadership, which at first shunned outside involvement and insisted that Greece could safeguard the Games, has undergone something of a sea change in attitude and is now accepting more aggressive assistance from other governments. Despite the cooperation, however, it is still a struggle to ensure that the Greeks remain vigilant and on schedule, officials said.
"There is the Greek way and the American way. We can't expect everybody to do it our way," said Larry Buendorf, chief of security for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "They may tend to be a little more reactive. We tend to be more proactive." In the end, Buendorf said he believes that Greece, working with others, will provide adequate safety.
One major concern, said an Olympic consultant, is a delay in getting the command center fully functioning, a problem noted by the International Olympic Committee. The facility will allow security officers to share video and audio feeds in real time and to retrieve information instantly to look for trends. David Tubbs of Science Applications International Corp., the primary contractor, said planning and construction is on schedule.
With a long coastline dotted with scores of islands, close proximity to the Balkans and lax immigration policies, Greece has long had a reputation as a haven for terrorists, according to numerous intelligence officials.
Under pressure from the United States, Greece has lately taken a more active role in the fight against terrorism. With U.S. and British assistance, it dealt a major blow to November 17, the home-grown terrorist organization that had operated on Greek soil for 25 years, killing 23 people, including a CIA station chief and three other Americans.
John Noukas, a former FBI special agent who helped investigate the group, still views it as a threat. Younger members who are still at large have been seen on surveillance video, said Noukas, who runs a security company that has done business in Greece.
But as the Athens organizing committee moves toward shoring up security for the Olympics, government intelligence reports describe infighting among Greek police officers and a number of incidents, including problems revealed by the recent counterterrorism exercise.
The exercise, conducted in August by security and military forces, was aimed at challenging the physical and technical systems in place. The U.S. security planning official characterized the exercise as a major failure. He said most attempts to pierce security at several of the Olympic venues were successful.
Another intelligence official described the government's position as "concerned but not alarmed."
At least one effort used a tactic that terrorists have relied on dozens of times over the past 30 years: A young woman posing as an expectant mother carried fake explosives in a stomach pouch past guards without being stopped.
"If the Olympics were held today, the security would be worse than Munich," the U.S. security planning official said, referring to the site where 11 Israeli athletes and trainers were killed by pro-Palestinian terrorists who took them hostage during the 1972 Games.
One report, he said, showed that "Greek officials are alarmed and unhappy with the August exercise."
Israel has voiced displeasure with the arrangements and asked to send its own security detail to protect its athletes. The Greek government reluctantly agreed. Traditionally, the host country is solely responsible for guarding athletes and does not authorize outside police agencies to carry weapons in the Olympic Village.
"We sent a team to Athens to look over security," said a former Israeli military officer. "It was so bad that we privately threatened to boycott the Games unless things were changed."
Another test exercise carried out last year to determine the security strengths and weaknesses of the main port in Piraeus also revealed problems, according to intelligence reports, U.S. government officials and security consultants.
During the exercise, test agents were able to gain access to a ferry and plant a mock bomb. The device was ultimately discovered and defused. In 1988, terrorists from the Abu Nidal organization took control of a Greek ferry in Athens, killing nine people and wounding 99 with machine-gun fire and grenades.
Though security was breached in the test, Greek Olympic officials hailed it as a success and said the port area would be safe for cruise ships that will be used for housing and office space by, among others, the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We did a complete security assessment of the port of Piraeus," said Neil Fergus, chief of Intelligent Risks, an Australian company hired by Greece. "There will be some challenges."
The port will be protected by a guarded perimeter fence and only individuals who are accredited and cleared by security will be allowed to enter the area to board the ships. Coast guard vessels will patrol the port's waters.
But security fences and maritime patrols are not always successful, experts said, citing the bombing in 2000 of the USS Cole, a Navy warship that was nearly sunk in Yemen by suicide bombers in a small boat loaded with explosives. The warship was in a secure area with armed lookouts posted.
The U.S. Navy recently provided a classified briefing on water-borne threats, some of which are applicable to the Olympics, to Defense Department officials. "One area they stressed was the problem of stopping a terrorist on a jet ski loaded with explosives," a participant said.
Various intelligence agencies have reported interest by the al-Qaida terrorist network in attacking ports. Last year, suspected al-Qaida operatives were arrested with maps of a large Malaysian port.
Louis Mizell, a former State Department special agent and intelligence analyst who has created a database that contains nearly 40,000 terrorist tactics and trends, said the Athens Olympics pose multiple maritime threats. "It's an underwater threat, a shore-to-sea threat, it's sea-to-sea, and it's disloyal insiders already working on the boat," he said.
"When it comes to the Olympics, it's a lot easier to attack them than to defend them," said Mizell. He has chronicled more than 100 incidents of terrorists striking at athletic events. "Terrorists have pulled weapons from tennis rackets, golf bags, booby-trapped baseball bats and soccer balls and impersonated athletes, guards and police," he said.
In addition to the Black September assault on the Games in Munich, terrorists tried to attack the 1998 Olympics in Japan and the 1988 Games in Seoul twice, according to Mizell's data. During the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the Weather Underground, a U.S. radical group, planned an attack with a large quantity of plastic explosives, said Bill Rathburn, a former police chief and consultant to the State Department who has been involved with several Olympics. Eric Rudolph has been charged with planting a bomb that killed one spectator and injured 100 others during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
"No security is 100 percent," Mizell said. "Massive international crowds, unlimited symbolic targets, thousands of athletes and easy access across borders and from the sea will make the 2004 Olympics a very tempting target."