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Wednesday, October 01, 2003


The Politics of Security

It’s almost impossible to know to what extent one should take seriously the article on the security of the 2004 Olympic games in Athens published in The Washington Post on September 27 and entitled “For Athens Olympics, A Security Gap: Tests Show Porous Defenses, Reports Cite Planning Breakdowns.” It was written by Washington Post staff writer Gregory L. Vistica, who argued that, eleven months before the beginning of the Athens games, the security concerning them is highly problematic, and full of inconsistencies and serious lapses. The assessment that security is far from satisfactory at this stage of planning was prompted by “serious” security lapses during the test events that took place in August.

Serious organizational problems and security gaps did indeed plague the test events in August. Indeed, these issues have been reported and debated continually in the Greek press, and have been recognized by both the government and the Greek Olympic committee, although, admittedly, more transparency and frankness about the progress of preparations is needed in the case of the latter. Very few people seem to disagree with the fact, however, that eleven months before the opening ceremony, there is still a long way to go toward achieving the necessary levels of organization and security.

Approached from this perspective, there can be no objection to the Post’s article. The article ventures far beyond well-intentioned, objective, and constructive criticism and reporting, however. Not that that should surprise anyone. There is a history here that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, the article is the latest in a long line of alarmist “reports” on security and terrorism in Greece, propagated by various US government agencies and the American media. These reports had abated briefly after the dismantling of November 17 and the arrest of its members, only to come back almost steadily as we begin to inch closer to the 2004 Olympics. The high- (or, depending on your point of view, low-) point was, of course, the recent “intelligence” that Greece is a haven for Al Qaeda operatives, and that the safety of Athens airport worries American officials (see “A Fable for Our Times,”, August 25). After this week’s wave of attacks against journalists, academics, and politicians in Athens, I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of this story.

One, of course, can say that I’m over-reacting to Vistica’s article, and that my response is another typical example of Greek aversion to criticism. Maybe. I think, however, that the Post article skims the surface of objective journalism and then descends deeply into the murky waters of unbridled speculation and undisguised propaganda. It should not be readily dismissed, or ignored, as merely another example of American oversensitivity to terrorism. The article is calculating in its approach, and the damage it afflicts on Greece (and on tourism to the country) a year before the Olympics is manifest. What else can one say about statements such as the following?

With a long coastline dotted with scores of islands, close proximity to the Balkans and lax immigration policies, Greece has long had a reputation as a haven for terrorists, according to numerous intelligence officials.

“If the Olympics were held today, the security would be worse than Munich,” the U.S. security planning official said.

“There is the Greek way and the American way. We can’t expect everybody to do it our way,” said Larry Buendorf, chief of security for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “They may tend to be a little more reactive. We tend to be more proactive.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but, last time I looked, even with these recent spasmodic, and desperate, gasps of mostly victimless, November 17 “solidarity” terror, Athens seemed to be pretty dull compared to some other major metropolitan areas, in both the Old and New Worlds. As far as the “proactive” approach is concerned, I venture to say that the problem here is definitional. What Mr. Buendorf refers to as “proactive,” President Bush calls preemption. The latest — and bloodiest — example of US “proactivity” is Iraq. Under the circumstances, I’ll take the Greek approach.

In addition to being a co-founder of, Stelios Vasilakis is a classical philologist and a former associate of the Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism.
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