ATHENS, Greece – Armed U.S. agents will watch over American athletes during a pre-Olympic training camp that will include most of the nation's team, The Associated Press has learned.
Greek police spokesman Col. Lefteris Ikonomou repeated the government's position that no foreign agents can carry guns during the Aug. 13-29 Olympics. Ikonomou would neither confirm nor deny U.S. security plans for Crete before the games, but he added that Olympic policing measures began taking effect in Athens last week.
A senior Greek security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP at least 45 U.S. agents will accompany the American athletes and support staff to Crete beginning in early August, and "about 24 of them will have a permit by Greek authorities to carry weapons."
The U.S. athletics team has about 200 members in addition to trainers and others.
The security force will also have dogs trained to detect explosives, said the source, who is familiar with the training camp. The official said FBI agents visited Crete recently to work out details of the security plan.
Plans for armed escorts were confirmed by another Greek security official. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. diplomatic security office will provide about 120 people for Athens, most of them agents but some of them analysts, said a State Department (search) terrorism expert, who asked not to be identified.
For Crete, he said, the FBI (search) will contribute more than 40 agents. Some 30 additional FBI agents will be assigned to Athens.
Extra security could be sought for training facilities, because most of Greece's police and armed forces are now focusing on Athens.
Conditions at the U.S. training site may illustrate the delicate balance being negotiated in Athens, with Greece's desire to control security weighed against the demands of the United States and other governments seeking special protection.
It was not clear if other nations would seek to bring armed security personnel to training sites or if armed U.S. escorts would go to training sites outside Crete.
The Athens Olympics — the first summer games since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — carry a record security price tag of more than $1.2 billion and are viewed as a model for international anti-terrorist cooperation. NATO will offer aerial patrols and other support. Greece has worked with a seven-nation security advisory group led by the United States and Britain.
But the issue of whether to permit armed security agents with the Olympic teams remains highly sensitive.
Greek officials feel armed foreign guards would undermine their authority. They also worry foreign guards might overreact to such common occurrences as street protests, small firebombs planted by anarchists or motor scooters on sidewalks to avoid traffic.
Bob Condron, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, declined to comment on the presence of armed U.S. guards on Crete but noted "there is a security situation in place."
"The entire track and field team will be working out on Crete before the competition," Condron said from the committee's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He said most of the athletes "will live in Crete and they will train on Crete for up to two weeks."
The U.S. women's soccer team is also expected to stay on the island. On Aug. 11, the United States faces Greece in the opening preliminary round match in the city of Iraklion. Some soccer matches take place before the games officially open.
The Greek security official said the U.S. security detail is expected to be based at the western city of Hania, near the lone U.S. military facility in Greece. The Souda Bay naval base serves as an intelligence center for U.S. operations in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea.
Most of the U.S. athletics team plans to move to the Olympic Village in Athens just before the opening ceremony. But Condron said the U.S. basketball team will stay on one of the cruise ships in the port of Piraeus, some six miles from central Athens.
About 15,000 visitors, state officials and dignitaries will be aboard the eight cruise ships. The vessels will be protected by thousands of special forces, barbed wire fences fitted with motion sensors, surveillance cameras, X-ray machines and detectors for radiological, chemical and biological materials. Gunboats and helicopters will be on constant patrol.