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Olympics Surveillance Ready As Athens Expands Security

A vast network of street cameras, surveillance vans, underwater sensors, and a blimp was declared operational Friday, three weeks before the Games open.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Months behind schedule and millions over budget, Athens is finally ready to spy on the Olympics. A vast network of street cameras, surveillance vans, underwater sensors, and a blimp bristling with ultrasensitive monitors was declared operational Friday--three weeks before the games begin and a day after the Olympic Village opened.

The $312 million surveillance system was supposed to be ready May 28, but there were delays in installation, blamed on construction setbacks at Olympic venues, including the main stadium.

Overall security for the Aug. 13-29 games is costing three times more than planned. Greece initially was to spend $600 million on security, but that has soared to a record $1.5 billion operation to thwart a possible terrorist attack.

Athens has also been getting security help from the United States, Britain, Israel, and other countries, and NATO will send air and sea patrols and experts in biochemical weapons.

Alliance officials confirmed this week that Greece is seeking additional counterterrorism assistance--a request likely to receive summary approval--including 400 elite troops from the United States.

"Greece is ready," Premier Costas Caramanlis said Friday. "Greece will host ... absolutely successful games in conditions of supreme safety."

That's quite a promise for the first Summer Olympics after the Sept. 11 attacks. Earlier this year, fears of attacks in Europe increased dramatically after terrorist bombings in Madrid and Istanbul, Turkey.

Greece also is close to many of the world's hot spots--including the Balkans and the Middle East--and is troubled by local anarchists and other radical groups.

"We have considered every possible scenario," Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said. "These include very extreme cases--we're talking about World War III, things that exceed our imagination. But we are obliged to think about such things.''

The security shield was developed by Pentagon contractor Science Applications International Corp. Companies in the consortium include Germany's Siemens AG; General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va.; New Jersey-based Honeywell International, and the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Several Greek companies also are participating.

It encompasses everything from iris scanners that check the identities of airport employees to large X-ray machines capable of looking through entire trucks. There are microphones listening for underwater swimmers in ports, and cameras that can recognize the sound of a gunshot and automatically zoom in on it.

Fed into a security command center, images and audio will stream from more than 1,000 cameras in venues and main streets, police helicopters, spy planes, and on an airship that began floating over Athens on Friday.

The blimp is also fitted with chemical "sniffers" and other secretive sensors. It will help authorities communicate with 70,000 police and troops on the streets.

Added to the surveillance system will be an extensive array of physical barriers, including double perimeter fences around key venues, and concrete barriers for car bomb attacks. NATO AWACS surveillance plans will help maintain a no-fly zone over Athens, while Patriot missiles may be called on to shoot down rogue planes.

The Olympic Village, which opened Thursday, will have police checkpoints up to two miles from the entrance, 24-hour patrols, motion sensors, and the truck-scanning X-ray.

Anti-terrorism legislation has also been toughened, allowing police greater powers to snoop on cell phone use.

The security system will be partially tested Sunday during a police exercise to manage traffic between the city's main Olympic venues. The drill involves public transport networks and the use of restricted Olympic traffic lanes for athletes' buses and other accredited vehicles.

Security hot spots include Athens' main Olympic stadium, the Olympic Village, and the nearby port of Piraeus, where many of the more than 90 heads of government and other dignitaries are expected to stay on luxury liners. In all, about 15,000 visitors will be housed aboard at least eight cruise ships--including the Queen Mary 2.

The Foreign Ministry said British Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted an invitation to attend the opening ceremony. Other visitors will include President Bush's father and his daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

Besides the financial cost, there has been a political one as well.

There have been violent street protests against what critics see as excessive overseas involvement and police intrusion into citizen's privacy. Anti-globalization campaigners have begun painting over surveillance cameras during protests expected to continue through the games.

"The government should take the necessary measures to safeguard the Olympics, but it is hard to comprehend the excesses we have witnessed in security measures," the Athens daily Ta Nea said in an editorial Friday.

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