ATHENS - The Greek government appears to be forfeiting control over vital aspects of security preparations for the Summer Olympic Games, even as the security budget spirals to an unprecedented US$1.5 billion.
Teams of US, Israeli and British intelligence officials have been in Greece since last year, preparing for the massive policing operation that will unfold during the Games, which run from August 13-29. The Americans are particularly active in securing Greece's border posts and the central Piraeus harbor, while an Israeli team has been providing the Greek police with training on how to deal with suicide bombers.
But with just weeks before the high-profile opening ceremony, current and former Greek government officials are admitting to being the recipients of "insufferable pressures for a long time, not just from the Americans".
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With Athens already swarming with foreign intelligence services and despite public claims to the contrary, it has emerged in the past two months that US and Israeli guards will be armed, while the US Coast Guard will shoulder some of the burden of securing high-profile targets, such as the port of Piraeus, where foreign dignitaries will stay aboard eight cruise ships.
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Hundreds of US troops will be on standby on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, ready to be flown into Athens within 20 minutes of an incident. A Czech NATO squad specializing in nuclear, biological and chemical catastrophes will be secretly based in the Greek capital, according to a British security contractor involved in the security of the Olympics.
Concerns over a possible CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) attack have loomed. A senior doctor at Athens' central Evangelismos Hospital - where members of the International Olympic Committee will be treated in case of an emergency - told Asia Times Online that, although staff at most hospitals in Athens had attended some seminars on how to react to a CBR emergency, he has doubts over their ability to react competently in the event of an attack.
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In interviews, Greek and Western officials, analysts and contractors described to Asia Times Online how the Greek government had progressively surrendered sovereignty on key issues related to the security of the Olympics. A former government official charged with security for the Games estimated that at least 300 armed guards would participate in the Olympics, aside from "the intelligence people who'll come in who are totally undercover and we'll never know about".
While the Greek government has spent $1.5 billion and will deploy up to 70,000 police and soldiers around Olympic venues, the US, British and Israeli insistence on operational involvement appears to betray concern over preparations. It comes on the back of reported poor showings by Greek forces in several role-playing exercises.
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This is gonna be a fucking mess. Mark my words.