13 August 2004

Again, the Times is red-teaming inadequate security as done a few days with New York City helicopters:


As with the Olympics, US national and New York City security deception, luxurious budgets for national and homeland security are proclaimed to be insufficient, warnings are issued, secret protection plans are boosted, vulnerabilities are concealed, excuses for failure are pre-prepared, and anyone who calls attention to the sham is labeled an enemy of the state -- except the New York Times, well, the Times was called that for release of the Pentagon Papers.

This article appeared in the sports section not on the grave front page.

The New York Times, August 13, 2004


Athens Security: Seeing Isn't Believing



WHERE the ominous black hull of the Queen Mary 2 protrudes into the port of Piraeus, the green water is so clear, you can almost see the frogmen who are no doubt swimming in a matching shade of Kermit so as not to be detected by aquatic thugs.

Where a six-lane road passes the Ikea-style Olympic complex about 15 miles away, there is a line of empty plastic barriers that should be filled with sand but are not, forming a protective layer of Lego blocks for the common folk inside.

In plain sight, for every villain to see, there is a gray gunboat in front of the performance-enhanced QM2 loaded with its precious cargo of dignitaries, politicians and LeBron James.

A floating barrier bobs between the luxury liner and the port entry, where Coast Guard boats sometimes usher ferries through a passage 100 yards from the ship's deck chairs.

The entrance to the Queen Mary 2's dock holds two concrete barriers, an electronic iron gate, at least eight surveillance cameras and a dozen machine-gun-carrying security troops with swivel heads and tight jaws.

A loading dock at the Olympic complex has a sliding gate, a police academy officer on his first after-shave, a veteran Athens police officer on his motorbike, an unarmed volunteer and a National Guardsman named Thanassis Mallesskides.

"I'm 27 and already divorced," Mallesskides offered unprompted on Wednesday.

A few minutes earlier, Mallesskides was wielding his G3 automatic weapon as casually as a Super Soaker after he approached two reporters who were talking with the Athens police veteran and the volunteer.

In a scrapbook moment for the National Rifle Association, Mallesskides began caressing the features of his G3 the way Vanna White touches vowels as he swung the barrel waist high toward his suddenly queasy audience. Pulling out the loaded cartridge, he said with a smile, "Now there's no bullets."

Then he flipped open the chamber and - who knew? - a two-inch bullet popped out.

With a smirk, Mallesskides was unfazed by the bullet's surprise appearance. He slammed the cartridge back into the gun and twisted the G3 around again until the Athens police veteran stopped the cavalier showmanship with a curt, "I don't like that."

Mallesskides drifted back toward his corner by the gate, looked over the barrel of his gun and sat down at a plastic table with the police academy officer, who had a real live pistol in his holster.

So, it may seem as if the five-star passengers aboard the QM2 are protected with elite forces while the Olympic compound is sealed with Rambo & Son in a kind of class system of security. Is it fair for the Coast Guard protecting the port of Piraeus - home to a conga line of luxury cruisers full of celebrity athletes, business tycoons and special guests - to consume almost a third of the $1.2 billion security budget?

Is sand in a land of dust too expensive to fill up the plastic barriers protecting the buildings, competition sites and ticket-holders who can't afford to B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bodyguard)?

Actually, there is nothing unequal here - except that one illusion of safety is grander than the other.

Up a hill, a block from the guarded gate to the Queen Mary 2, a one-lane road traces a bluff overlooking the grand ship. Standing on the hill, with only a chain fence to obstruct the view, you can almost touch the buses full of dignitaries passing below, pick out passengers in the distance and, apparently, take notes on all the security machinations without being bothered.

As of last week, security advisers also worried about the possibility of a ferry being hijacked and plowed into a ship's hull - frogmen or no frogmen.

"What is at stake is protecting society, democracy, civilization and freedom," Jacques Rogge proclaimed this week in his role as the International Olympic Committee president.

He believes Athens has met its security challenge - very confident, he has said - but Rogge didn't exactly cancel the I.O.C.'s $170 million insurance policy against a Summer Games debacle.

The Greeks have done their best to create the look and feel of security by putting 70,000 uniformed bodies on the streets, but should they all have bullets? Or, a better question, do they all have bullets? Two guards said no, suggesting that not everyone you see is armed.

"That's someone joking," said Regina Despiniotou, a police press officer. "Of course, they have bullets." She continued, asking incredulously: "Why would they be there? For decoration?"

There is a Hollywood-set aspect to the Olympic security. What's real and what's for show? What's a barrier? What's an empty milk jug?

Last week, two Mexican journalists said they were beaten by Greek Coast Guard officers at the port of Piraeus for taking photos of a restricted area near the flotilla of the famous.

Whether it served as a deterrent, the tough love provided yet another example of a security detail serious about its work after a $1.2 billion investment.

And yet, with all that dough, the Greeks' best safety mechanism cost them nothing: security by procrastination. By building competition sites at the last minute literally with duct tape and plastic tabs to hold the Erector set together, by assembling their security plans at the 11th hour, the Greeks may have foiled the bad guys after all.

How can they coordinate an attack against an Olympic vision? No illusion necessary. No bullets required. What a plan.