Order Code RS21833
Updated July 9, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Greece: Threat of Terrorism and
Security at the Olympics
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The summer 2004 Olympic Games will take place in Athens, Greece. The Greek
government is planning unprecedented security measures to deal with possible terrorist
threats. Athens is preparing mainly for external threats, although anarchists and antiglobalization groups may be disruptive as well. The Greek Ministry of Public Order is
in charge of security and Greece requested assistance from NATO and others, including
the United States. The U.S. Administration is taking its own steps to protect the U.S.
Olympic team. This report will be updated if developments warrant. See also CRS
Report RS21529, Al Qaeda after the Iraq Conflict, May 23, 2003, by (name redact
ed), and CRS Electronic Briefing Book,
Terrorism, page on “Al Qaeda,” updated
regularly by (name reda cted), [http://www.congress. gov/brbk/html/ebter131.html].
The summer 2004 Olympic Games will take place in Athens, Greece on August 1329, with 10,500 athletes from 202 countries participating and more than one million
spectators expected. The first Olympic games took place in Greece in 776 B.C. and the
first modern games were held in Athens in 1896. Thus, as a point of national pride,
hosting a successful Olympics is the highest priority of the Greek government.
Underscoring its importance, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis assumed the post of
Minister of Culture to be directly responsible for the Olympics when he took office in
March 2004, promising “the best and safest Olympic Games there have ever been.”1
Greece is the smallest country to host the Olympics since Finland in 1952, and
questions have arisen about its ability to cope with the many facets of the task. This report
deals only with possible terrorist threats and security. Although problems with traffic and
electrical capacity could affect security, they are not addressed below.
“PM Issues Global Invitation to ‘The Best and Safest Olympics,’” Athens News Agency, March
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Potential Terrorist Threats
Terrorism and violence are not new to the Olympics. Palestinian terrorists kidnaped
and murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and an American was
charged with a bombing near the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Terrorists reportedly planned
to attack other Olympics, but did not succeed.2 Since 9/11, international awareness of
terrorism has heightened, and Greek security planners face a variety of challenges.
Domestic Threats. Until recently, Greece’s record in combating domestic
terrorism was widely regarded as deficient. A group called the Revolutionary
Organization 17 November (17N) had acted with impunity since 1975, claiming
responsibility for assassinating four U.S. officials and many others. Following the
fortuitous arrest of a 17N terrorist in June 2002 after a bomb exploded in his hands
prematurely, Greek authorities captured and successfully prosecuted suspected leaders and
members of the group. No new acts of terrorism have been attributed to 17N since the
2002 arrests. Although the Greek Police Chief claimed, “17N does not exist anymore,”
Minister of Public Order George Voulgarakis has admitted that “questions remain that
continue to keep the file open.”3 The U.S. State Department has kept 17N on its list of
Foreign Terrorist Organizations in Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2003, quoting the Chief
“that additional members of the group are at large, and investigations are continuing.”4
After their success against 17N, Greek authorities focused on the Revolutionary
People’s Struggle (ELA). ELA also had been active since 1975 and had claimed
responsibility for hundreds of bombings and at least two murders. Patterns of Global
Terrorism, 2003 lists Revolutionary Nuclei (RN) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and
refers to it as a probable successor to or an offshoot of ELA, which had not claimed
responsibility for any acts since 1995 and is no longer on the State Department list. RN
engaged in arson and low-level bombing; it has not claimed an attack since 2000. Five
members of ELA captured in January 2003 and accused of crimes including bombing
vehicles and facilities used by the U.S. military are now on trial. The Greek government
believes that ELA has been effectively dismantled.
Some analysts suggest that if remnants of 17N and ELA were still at large, they
would not act during the Olympics because of their professed “patriotism.”5 However,
such sentiments may not inhibit anarchist groups that abound mainly in the Athens area
and target popular U.S. and allied businesses, for example American Express, Citibank,
and McDonald’s, usually with low-level weapons such as firebombs when premises are
Gregory L. Vistica, “For Athens Olympics, A Security Gap,” Washington Post, September 27,
Ioanna Mandhrou, “The New Counter-Terrorism Prosecutor Assumed his Duties Yesterday,”
To Vima, April 20, 2004, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Document
GMP20040421000175; “Voulgarakis: Certain Aspects of ‘N17' Affair Still Unresolved,” Athens
News Agency, June 22, 2004.
U.S. State Department, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003, released April 2004.
See e.g., comments by Mary Bossis, a Greek terrorism expert, on Athens NET Television
Network, December 10, 2003, FBIS Document GMP10031210000095.
unoccupied.6 There is some concern that Greek anarchists may ally with like-minded
anti-globalization groups both in Greece and from elsewhere in Europe during the
Olympics to carry out demonstrations or more violent acts.7 They have the potential to
wreak havoc when an unusually large number of foreign tourists flood the city. As if to
presage this possibility, on May 5, 2004, 100 days before the start of the Olympics, three
bombs were set off outside an Athens police station, causing property damage, minor
injuries, and worldwide anxiety. The Prime Minister and other officials quickly labeled
the attack an isolated incident unrelated to the Olympics. However, a group called
Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for the attack, which resembled those
perpetrated by ELA and RN, and denounced foreign involvement in Olympic security and
“affluent Western Olympic tourists.”8 There also have been attacks foiled and hoaxes
near U.S.- and Olympic-related sites. Domestic terrorist groups have not been tied to
international terror networks, but media reports have alleged that ELA trained in
Palestinian camps in Lebanon, suggesting that international links are possible.9
Greece has an indigenous Muslim population and a large number of residents from
Muslim and Arab countries. The police have increased surveillance of Muslims in major
cities in anticipation of the Olympics.10 Some local Muslim preachers are considered
radical. Although there have been no reports of Islamist terrorist groups operating in
Greece, the country is probably a transit route for terrorists heading elsewhere.
International Threats. The Athens Olympics are the first summer games to be
held since Al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Alleged Al
Qaeda links to the November 2003 bombings in nearby Istanbul and the March 2004
bombing of a train in Madrid have heightened the Greek government’s already keen
awareness of a possible international terrorist threat to the Olympics. Al Qaeda has made
no specific or known threat against the Olympics. On April 15, 2004, however, Al Qaeda
leader Osama bin Laden offered Europeans a “peace treaty” if they withdrew their troops
from Muslim countries. His message said that “the door of peace will remain open” for
three months. The Olympics will occur just weeks after Bin Laden’s deadline expires,
intensifying concerns that the Games might be a symbolic European target of high value
for Al Qaeda. On April 19, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge included the
Olympics on a list of possible terrorist targets.
One newspaper listed about 100 such groups. Aryiro K. Morou, “The Gas Canister Arsonists
of Athens,” Elevtheroptipia, September 9, 2003, FBIS Document GMP20030915000208.
“EL.AS. (Greek Police) Confirms the Existence of an Anarchist ‘Axis’,” To Vima, January 21,
2004, FBIS Document GMP20040121000090.
“The Hide-Out of the ‘Revolutionary Nuclei,’” To Vima, May 8, 2003, FBIS Document
GMP20040509000020, “Responsibility Claimed by the ‘Revolutionary Struggle,’”To Pondiki,
May 13, 2004, FBIS Document GMP10040513000040.
A. Telloglu, “ A War between Intelligence Agencies,” To Vima tis Kiriakis, September 2, 2002,
FBIS Document GMP20020916000013.
Iason Athanasidis, “Muslims Living in Greece Come Under Intelligence Spotlight Ahead of
Olympics,” International Herald Tribune, April 7, 2004; Las, “Islamists under Discreet
Surveillance, Elevtherotipia, June 8, 2004, FBIS Document GMP20040610000127.
Some experts believe that Al Qaeda will be attracted to the Greek Olympics in order
to communicate its message to an audience of billions, to strike in the cradle of Western
democracy, and to attack Western citizens and interests.11 Countries whose nationals are
considered to be at high risk include the United States, Britain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and
Russia. A dissenting view is heard from those who suggest that anxiety about Al Qaeda
terrorism at the Olympics may be exaggerated or maintain that Greek security measures
(see below) will accomplish their purpose of effectively hardening otherwise “soft”
Concern about Greece’s vulnerability to penetration by international terrorist groups
is partly due to the existence of countless points of entry and to its arguably defective or
lax border and passport controls. Greece has thousands of islands in the Aegean, Ionian
and Mediterranean Seas, and is close to Middle Eastern and Balkan hot spots. Albania,
Bulgaria, and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be closely monitoring
Greece’s northern borders prior to and during the Olympics. However, Greece already
has many illegal residents from the Balkans and the Middle East. Moreover, it has not yet
fully implemented a plan for central control over issuing passports, which remains the
prerogative of local prefects. Nor has it begun to issue more secure passport documents.
Domestic Planning.13 The combined Greek and NATO security budget for the
Olympics is $1.2 billion and rising. Greece plans to deploy 70,000 security personnel,
200 of whom have been trained to deal with nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks.
The Public Order Ministry is the lead agency for Olympic security and, because it believes
that there is no domestic threat, it is primarily focusing on external threats. Given the
nature of the Greek government, where ministers usually operate autonomously and are
responsible solely to the Prime Minister, coordination is considered both a possible
weakness and a priority for Olympic preparations. The government has created a special
Coordinating Council for Olympic Security, consisting of 10 ministers and chaired by the
Minister of Public Order. Coordination was a problem in early security exercises, but it
has not received much attention since then and may have improved.
The Greek government contracted with the U.S.-based Science Applications
International Corporation (SAIC) to provide components of the security infrastructure for
Al Qaeda struck at tourists or other Western targets and interests in the United States,
Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and attempted to strike Israeli tourists in Kenya.
One local skeptic suggested that Greece may not be facing a great terrorist threat because 1)
it hosts only “small, peaceful communities” of Arabs who are monitored by police; 2) there are
no local extremist groups to take assignments from Al Qaeda; 3) Greece enjoys friendly relations
with Arab countries; and 4) Greece’s security forces are prepared. Yeoryios Karaivaz, “The
Greek Police Scenarios on Security,” Elevtheros Tipos, March 15, 2004, FBIS Document
Greek media have reported on security copiously, critically, and in detail. See e.g., Andonios
Bosnakoudhis, “Olympic Games’ Security,” Amina & Dhiplomatia, February 1, 2004, 39 pages,
FBIS Document GMP 20040211000086.
the Olympics at a cost of about $250 million, since reportedly increased to $320 million.14
SAIC heads an international consortium providing elements for security at sporting
venues, the Olympic Village where athletes will live, and ports where cruise ships housing
visitors will be docked. It also is building a command center for the government to
connect the police, the national first aid center, fire department, coast guard, and armed
forces, and creating security systems, mainly surveillance equipment and management.
SAIC missed its May 28 deadline for completing the command center, prompting doubts
whether fully-tested systems will be in place on time.15 Plans also call for about 1,400
security cameras at Olympic facilities and at central points in Attica (a large prefecture
that includes Athens), for a no-fly zone over Olympic sites, and for a security blimp.
Competitors from high-risk countries will have Greek security escorts.
Greece has conducted many security exercises. From March 10-23, 2004, for
example, foreign forces, including 400 U.S. special operations forces, joined Greeks in
dealing with multiple terrorism scenarios for suicide bombings, chemical and biological
attacks, and plane hijackings. It revealed problems with coordination and communication,
but Greek officials said that the exercise had served the purpose of identifying areas
needing improvements and adjustments in security plans.16
Delays in constructing some event venues reportedly may detrimentally affect plans
to secure them.17 Security plans began to be implemented on July 1, with security checks
and patrols of Olympic facilities, coordinated visits by police, fire, and other services, and
other measures, but some measures will not be operational until mid-July. The Olympic
stadium will not be ready until August 10, three days before the Olympics begin.
International Assistance. Greeks are extremely sensitive about their national
sovereignty, so requests for international assistance with security for the Olympics were
viewed as potentially politically explosive. Nonetheless, in 2000, the Greek government
established a seven-nation Olympic Advisory Group from the United States, the United
Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Australia, France, and Spain. Governments not in the
Advisory Group, such as Russia, also have advised Greek counterparts.
Greece officially requested NATO assistance after the train bombing in Madrid in
March 2004, although discussions had taken place earlier. The specific request was for
AWACS planes for air policing and for dealing with a possible air attack; the Standing
Naval Forces Mediterranean to patrol extraterritorial waters around Greece; and assistance
with nuclear and biochemical defenses; and intelligence. No NATO ground forces were
requested; the Greek Constitution forbids the presence of foreign troops on Greek soil.
NATO ships have conducted enhanced patrols in the Mediterranean since 9/11. The U.N.
SAIC News Release, May 22, 2003. It was later reported to have increased to $320 million.
Susan Schmidt, “New Fears About Olympics,” Washington Post, May 6, 2004.
Clifford J. Levy, “Uneasy Greece Focus on Olympic Security,” New York Times, April 7, 2004;
also see Embassy of Greece in Washington, D. C., Press Office, News Review for March , April
14, 2004, at [http://www.greekembassy.org].
Levy, New York Times, April 7, 2004, Laura Peek, “Security the Loser in Athens Race,” The
Times (London), April 13, 2004, Raymond Bonner and Anthee Carassava, “Delays in Athens
Raise Concern on Olympic Security Readiness,” New York Times, July 3, 2004.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is providing advice and technical assistance
to protect facilities and materials, to detect radiological materials, and to ensure that
emergency response forces are effective. The Greek government signed protocols with
32 countries to exchange intelligence and security information, and it is specifically
cooperating with other NATO and EU members, and Albania.
U.S. Measures and Aid. The official U.S. delegation to the Olympics will be led
by former President George H.W. Bush. A U.S. interagency task force with members
from the CIA, the FBI, State, and Defense Departments reportedly is focusing on the
Olympics.18 The U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security will provide the
U.S. Olympic team with a security force of 100-110 agents, analysts, and administrators.19
The Greek Constitution’s prohibition on armed foreign security personnel is requiring
ingenuity and considerable U.S. diplomatic activity to ensure that U.S. agents will be
capable. The American area in the Olympic Village will have special security
arrangements. Aside from the Department of State, Greek officials have consulted with
the National Security Council, Departments of Justice (FBI), Homeland Security, Energy,
and the CIA. Several agencies are providing equipment and training for Olympics
security forces. The Department of Energy is supplying radiation detectors to thwart
“dirty bombs” at airports and ports. Greece specifically requested U.S. aid with port
security and shipping container issues.20 The Department of Defense reportedly will
position an aircraft carrier, other ships, and rapid reaction forces in international waters
off Greece before and during the Olympics.21 The Acting Director of the U.S. Olympic
Committee has said that there is a plan to evacuate the team should an incident arise that
would pose a threat to its safety.22 He did not mention American spectators, for whom
Greece and the DOD are responsible.
Vistica, Washington Post, September 27, 2003.
The State Department plans to spend $2,763,000 for 150 Special Agents to be assigned on
temporary duty to Athens and environs prior to and during the Olympic games. See Department
of State, The Budget in Brief - Fiscal Year 2004. S. 2144, the proposed Foreign Affairs
Authorization Act, FY2005, Sec. 205 directs the Secretary of State to seek reimbursement from
the U.S. Olympic Committee for security provided to the U.S. Olympic Team by the Diplomatic
Security Special Agents. S.Rept. 108-248 was filed on March 12, 2004, and the bill was placed
on the Senate legislative calendar on March 18. State Department offices and federal agencies
assisting Greece with security are using funds from regular appropriations.
Western Policy Center forum, October 2, 2003.
N. Khasapopoulos, “The Request for NATO Participation has been Tabled,” To Vima, March
16, 2004, FBIS Document GMP20040402000113.
Philip Hersh and Skip Mysienski, “Security Clouds Darken Games,” Chicago Tribune, May
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