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US Troops Lead Top Secret Anti-Terror Exercise in Greece

March 10, 2004

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Under a veil of secrecy and total news blackout, 400 US troops are today playing command-and-control for 1,500 Greek Special Forces soldiers, as well as others from Israel, Britain, Germany and Canada, in a massive pre-Olympic anti-terror drill outside of the largest cities of Athens, Patras, Heraklion and Thessaloniki. Dubbed “Shield of Hercules,” the two-week operation will be “the biggest of its kind” before the games commence on 13 August.

The drill’s inclusion of the Greek Atomic Energy Committee, Civil Aviation Authority and Coast Guard highlights the major fears that organizers have: a “dirty” bomb, civilian aircraft hijacking, or ship hijacking. In the busy summer months, Greece’s wide seas are crisscrossed by thousands of ferries, sailboats and small craft. In light of the terrorist attacks less than a decade ago against the S.S. Cole in Yemen, security planners are focusing hard on the marine threat.

The news that American troops would be leading the show caused great displeasure amongst anarchist and anti-globalization protesters, who firebombed government trucks two weeks ago and vowed protests today outside the US Embassy.

However, despite occasional misconceptions, Greeks are not “anti-American” and American IOC athletic planners have few concerns for their safety this summer. Neither do experienced athletes, like Water Polo captain and 2-year resident in Greece Wolf Wigo. He says: “…I have never had one problem in Greece… the athletes will be treated very well.”

The military exercise comes only one day after the new Greek government was sworn in. Sunday’s elections saw the ruling Socialist PASOK party swept from power by Costas Karamanlis’ New Democracy Party. Karamanlis has vowed to personally prepare the country for an epic and safe Olympics, though time is running out. The ceremonies begin in less than five months, and many of the necessary structures remain unconstructed. But his government has asserted its determination and will to succeed.

The time lags in civil construction are affecting security preparations, however. Although an American company, SAIC, has a $250 million contract to provide state-of-the-art surveillance cameras, these can’t be installed until the actual facilities are constructed. And so the process of resolving security concerns remains somewhat in limbo. Coincidentally, SAIC has long involvement as a contractor in the Iraq reconstruction. Last November, SAIC defended itself against NBC Nightly News’ charge that that the company was “…was spending $272.00 an hour on an executive management consultant to train Iraqi journalists.” So far, little has been said about how SAIC got the Greek Olympic gig.

A key goal has been to ensure a smooth transfer of power and simultaneous continuation of working relations between the Greek government and their international allies. The new government’s Minister for Public Order, former commando Giorgos Voulgarakis, took over yesterday, declaring, “…this is one of the greatest undertakings we have to succeed in as a country,” and asserting that he had received a “thorough and sincere” briefing from his cooperative departing predecessor.

Another key appointment, new minister of defense, Spilios Spiliotopoulos, “…often accused the socialists of receiving kickbacks in return for defense contracts” when a member of the opposition. What affect this habit may have on the cooperation of existing Olympic military contractors like SAIC remains to be seen.

However, security fears may in the end prove to have been overemphasized, or at least misconceived. Yet while military operations usually tend to have rather grandiose and meaningless titles, “Shield of Hercules” sums up quite succinctly and in dizzying style what its planners are at the very least worried about right now:

“…a poem attributed to Hesiod, believed to have lived in the eighth century BC, describes a divine shield made for Heracles which had the personification of terror as its centerpiece, surrounded by Strife, Pursuit, Flight, Tumult, Panic and Slaughter.”

 

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