Responding to a request from Greece, the United States committed 400 American special forces soldiers to help protect the Olympic Games, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Wednesday, as security costs for the games swelled to a record-breaking $1.5 billion.
It was not yet decided where the U.S. soldiers would be based: in Athens, on the island of Crete or on alert in Europe, where they are based in Germany. The United States is in the process of discussing with the Greek government where the soldiers will be positioned, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The decision on where to send the troops is mostly up to the Greek government, but will be made jointly with Gen. James Jones, the top NATO commander who also is commander of U.S. forces in Europe, the official said in Washington.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated in Washington that any possible involvement of U.S. troops would be under a NATO umbrella.
“The Greek government has made a request of NATO. NATO is evaluating that request,” Myers said.
$1.5 billion for security
Greece’s top law enforcement official, meanwhile, said foreign leaders and other dignitaries can use their own armed guards at the Aug. 13-29 games, but athletes will be under the exclusive protection of Greek forces.
International demands to boost Olympic security have pushed costs, already the highest in Olympic history, to at least $1.5 billion — 25 percent higher than previously estimated, said Petros Doukas, the Greek deputy finance minister. These may include expanded roles for NATO anti-terrorism units and armed agents from the United States and other nations.
“There are new bills coming up,” Doukas told The Associated Press, adding that Greece did not want to “risk the reaction” by denying foreign appeals for added security.
The United States has led demands to expand anti-terrorism measures for the first summer Olympics since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Among the added costs, said Doukas, is more than $2.4 million for a blimp outfitted with high-resolution cameras and chemical detection systems.
On the ground, authorities are struggling to overcome delays and financial disputes to close gaps in a new communications-surveillance network.
Armed security a special concern
Greek officials also are seeking to find agreement on the politically sensitive issue of armed security contingents planned by the United States, Israel and possibly other nations.
Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis insisted athletes will be under the exclusive protection of Greek forces. But he noted that foreign leaders and other dignitaries can use their own armed guards as part of an established “security protocol” that covers such visits.
Heads of state and other prominent figures, including former President George Bush, are expected in Athens and normally have a security entourage.
The issue facing Greek officials is how much extra foreign security to allow and how freely to let it operate. Greece would to bend laws prohibiting armed security beyond diplomatic protection.
Greek officials also worry foreign guards might overreact to such common occurrences as street protests, small firebombs planted by anarchists or motor scooters on sidewalks to avoid traffic.
Some concessions have apparently already been made.
Greek police sources told the AP earlier this month that armed U.S. agents would watch over athletes during a pre-Olympic training camp on the island of Crete. The United States plans to send nearly 200 personnel to Greece, including diplomatic security and FBI agents.
More American specialists could operate under NATO, which has agreed to provide air and sea patrols and experts in biochemical weapons.
Israel, which lost 11 athletes to Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Games at Munich, Germany, will send armed guards and is among a half-dozen countries contributing security expertise at Greece’s request.
‘Correct and logical’
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.
“This is smart on the part of the Greeks and it’s not clear to me why they opposed this. After the issues of honor were put aside, the professional issues were considered. This is the correct decision.”
He added that he knew of no direct threats aimed at the Athens Olympics.
“But there are groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaida that have the willingness and the ability to attack at the games,” Hafetz said. “And thus it makes this business so critical. So you can’t take just a defensive position, you must act on the offensive.”