Athens strengthens security measures

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

ATHENS, Greece Athens will impose a no-fly zone over the city a week before the Olympics and has drawn up contingency plans to shoot down hijacked planes that could be used in a Sept. 11-style attack, a senior Greek air defense official said Tuesday, as authorities received U.S. scanners to check cars and trucks.

''The threats we're considering include renegade aircraft, missiles ... gliders, kites, remote-controlled planes, unmanned craft and others,'' Air Force Brig. Gen. Dimitris Mandilis told The Associated Press. ''Any order to engage and shoot these down rests with the government and a committee headed by the prime minister.''

Air defense systems have been placed around the Athens area, including U.S. Patriot missile batteries, together with French and Russian systems, defense officials told AP. The Patriot sites three around Athens, two in the northern city of Thessaloniki and one on the Aegean Sea island of Skyros were placed on alert July 1; the status will not change until Oct. 5.

With less than three weeks before the Aug. 13 opening ceremony, the most costly security plan in Olympic history is gradually taking shape with some police spyware going into full-time operation.

More than 290 street cameras, three helicopters and a 200-foot blimp, mounted with cameras, began Olympic patrols to monitor major roads and areas near venues.

Images and sound from the cameras and a dozen surveillance vans are fed into a command center, under a $312 million system developed by San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC.

The two mobile X-ray scanners, on loan from U.S. Customs, will be used to check for possible explosives in cars, trucks and cargo. The equipment is part of a bilateral agreement reached last month to strengthen seaport protection.

Security is costing Athens a record $1.5 billion and will involve 70,000 police and soldiers. The truck scanners, each worth $7 million, were loaned to Athens because technology procured by Greece will not be ready in time for the games.

''This is an important interagency effort,'' said Scott Blackhall of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection. ''It ends a weeklong intensive training program using the mobile X-ray technology.''

Trucks headed to the Olympic Village and venues will be scanned by the vehicles based at a new facility at Aspropyrgos, a town west of the city center. The scanners with an extending arm mounted on a command vehicle are designed to detect guns, explosives, drugs and people. Trucks can be checked in about three minutes, officials said.

''Truck safety is a crucial issue,'' said Vassilis Stavrinos, secretary general of the Finance Ministry in charge of Greece's customs. ''This provides a shield against illegal and terrorist actions and speeds up the inspection process.''

In May, the United States provided Greek police and border officials with radiation detection equipment to help guard the Olympics against a nuclear or ''dirty'' bomb a conventional device that could spread radioactive material.

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