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US Senate Panel Discusses Security at Olympics - 2004-05-04

Security at the Olympic games in Athens, Greece, in August, was the topic of a U.S. Senate panel hearing Tuesday. Lawmakers also heard from organizers of former Olympic games about security lessons learned from those events.

With 100 days to go before the summer Olympics open in Athens, Senate Commerce subcommittee chairman Senator Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, praised Greece for its attention to security and for seeking cooperation with the United States, NATO, and other countries.?It is a great credit to the Greek government that they have budgeted $1.2 billion for security, reached out to our nation for lessons learned, as well as to the North Atlantic Treaty alliance to provide military support for the security of our athletes and our spectators,? he said.

Greece is to deploy tens of thousands of armed guards in Athens during the games. It has asked NATO to help with air and sea patrols and has established an international security group (including the United States, Britain, Spain, France, Germany, and Israel) to assist in safeguarding the event.

The games will be the first Summer Olympics to be held since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States and organizers are doing all they can to prevent terrorists from striking.

Terrorism marred the 1972 summer games in Munich, Germany, when Palestinian gunmen broke into the Olympic village housing Israeli athletes and took nine hostages. The ordeal ended with five of the eight terrorists dead, along with all nine hostages and a German police officer.

In 1996, despite the heightened security a few years after the first World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing, a pipe bomb exploded at the Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia, killing one person and injuring more than 100 people.

Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts studied preparations for the Atlanta games when he became President of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He told the Senate panel that coordination among federal, state and local officials was lacking at the Atlanta Olympics. He said coordination was greatly improved under a $300 million security plan established for the Salt Lake City games.

"We had an 'air cap' of military aircraft in the air to ensure that no aircraft would come into the Salt Lake City area during key times that was on an inappropriate mission,? he said. ?We had military personnel that were searching vehicles, doing checks on bomb presence. We had Secret Service personnel throughout Salt Lake City. Literally thousands of federal agents moved into Salt Lake City, FBI agents and Forest Service agents."

Preparations for this year's Athens games have been plagued by delays in completing Olympic venues, including the main stadium. News reports have raised questions about security arrangements and suggested some athletes might pull out because of fears for their safety.

U.S. Olympic gold medal winner in track and field, Carl Lewis, urged U.S. athletes to participate.

AS a member of the Olympic team in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter announced a boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier, Lewis recalled athletes' disappointment about not being able to participate in the games.

?Our athletes have been training so much of their lives for this very special moment,? he explained. ?So let's not take it away from them. I remember looking at so many athletes at the end of their careers in 1980 who had to understand that they would never have that chance again.?

Later, U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller and other federal officials discussed security arrangements for the Athens games in closed session.