By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/28/2004 4:16:04 PM ET 2004-04-28T20:16:04

Not far from the historic ruins of Athens, special forces of the Greek police permitted NBC to watch as they trained for the unthinkable: a terrorist attack on the Olympics and rescuing hostages.

The ammunition: real bullets.  We saw soldiers rappelling from a helicopter, down a wall, storming a bus with hostages.

And in a heart-stopping display of marksmanship meant to teach courage as well, two police stand by balloons, while a sharpshooter aims from 250 feet away.

To guard against terrorist attacks, Greece is spending $1.2 billion on security —an all-time record.  “That is a huge amount for our country," said Giorgos Voulgarakis, Minister of Public Order.  "It is much higher than they spent in Salt Lake or in any other Olympic games.”

At the games, 40,000 Greek police will be deployed.  Add to that 15,000 Greek troops, maybe more — plus, bio and chemical specialists.

Already, there’s been joint training with U.S. and NATO troops, both of which will stand by at a distance, on call during the games.

NATO AWACs will patrol the skies and surveillance cameras will watch: 1,400 of them. “What we want is to host the world in a secure environment—athletes, media, spectators," said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who heads the Athens Olympics Committee.  "And we’re working very hard for that.”

Still, there are real concerns: crowded streets, buses and trains; the nearby port where eight cruise ships, including the new Queen Mary 2, will house visitors and VIP’s.  All are hard to protect in a nation not used to the rigors and discomfort of tight security.  It's an Olympics, then, not only rushing just to be ready, but struggling to be safe at the same time.

Many believe that in the end everything will work out.  But as one international Olympic official put it, along the way organizers could use the symbolic help of every ancient Greek god they used to worship.

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