Security at the Olympic GamesAmbassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Remarks in a Workshop on Olympic Security
September 29, 2003
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today, it is both a privilege and a pleasure to be here in Athens to discuss the critical challenges we face to make sure that, from start to finish, the Olympic Games are held in peace. And our gathering here marks a homecoming, because this summer the games will return to the land where they were first played nearly 3,000 years ago.
We are meeting here to discuss how best to prevent a terrorist attack during the Olympic Games, and how best to protect the lives of Greek citizens and foreign visitors. But we have another responsibility, as well. We are charged with the task of keeping an ancient promise -- a promise as old as the games themselves: we must defend the Olympic torch as a beacon of peaceful coexistence among peoples everywhere.
As Pindar, the 5th century Greek poet once wrote, “As in the daytime, there is no star in the sky warmer and brighter than the sun, likewise there is no competition greater than the Olympic Games.” Together we can -- and we must -- work closely to ensure that those who wish us harm do not achieve their wicked goals. We must ensure that the contests here next August are decided by athletes in the arena and not terrorists in the streets.
Indeed, it is appropriate that we are here to discuss an event that is founded on a commitment to discipline and a creed of brotherhood. We must apply to our own counterterrorism efforts the same discipline and vigor that Olympic athletes use in their quest for the Gold. And while a shared passion will draw together athletes from around the world next summer, a common concern draws us here today. We know that terrorism affects all reaches of the world, and that we must be united, as a world, in fighting it.
Both our countries share tragic memories of terrorist violence. Although terrorism takes different forms around the world, extremist violence against innocent people anywhere is an assault on democratic principles everywhere. Terrorism threatens tolerance, openness, freedom itself -- the very ideas and values first conceived and tested in Greece thousands of years ago. Indeed, terrorism threatens the democratic tradition that is rightfully a part of this country’s own heritage.
I have spent the majority of my professional life fighting terrorists of one kind or another, and since that terrible morning just 2 years ago, I have watched my country awaken -- and helped it respond -- to the growing threat of international terrorism. Since that day, we have made important progress in our global campaign:
Nearly two-thirds of top al-Qa’ida leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators have been killed or captured since 9/11. And we have detained more than 3,000 terrorists in over 90 countries. Entire cells have been disbanded across the globe -- just as they were planning more attacks. And since 9/11, over 170 countries and jurisdictions have issued orders to freeze terrorists’ assets -- and so far, we have frozen more than $144 million in terrorist funding and designated more than 250 terrorist groups and entities. Here in Greece, impressive progress has been made in combating the threat posed by the terrorists of 17 November. The diligence of Greek law enforcement and government officials, combined with the support of the Greek public has brought within sight the final dismantling of this notorious and murderous terrorist group. But we also know that the more successful we are at capturing terrorist leaders, the more independently terrorists will act more often against unguarded targets. And much remains for us to do.
Because the stakes are so high here in Athens and around the world, we must succeed -- in preventing an attack and preparing for a fast and effective response, should an attack prove unavoidable. The cruise ships that, each day, dock in your ports -- the planes that, each day, depart and arrive along your airfields -- all these will become potential targets of terrorist attack in the months leading up to August. It is just at that moment we come together as a world -- here in Athens -- when terrorists may seek to divide us with their acts of deadly destruction. Knowing that terrorists are seeking soft targets, knowing that they will exploit perceived weaknesses, the only responsible course -- the only justifiable course -- is to do all we can to stop them.
This workshop is a crucial step in securing the safety of the Games. Workshops like these are important opportunities to promote dialogue and share experiences. But more than that, they are occasions where we can join together in real ways to set and achieve concrete goals. Because we know that dialogue without action is inadequate -- and action without dialogue is imprudent.
Much rests on the Olympic Operations Security Plan, which our host government has been invited to present during this workshop. I look forward to working together to finalize the Plan and make certain that we address all our needs and all our concerns. A team of American specialists is prepared to work with you to review, revise, and expand each Olympic Security Master Plan Annex. My government stands ready to cooperate wherever we can to support your government as it faces the challenges of the coming months.
I want to applaud the vision and leadership of Greece in its work to draft and enforce counterterrorism legislation and develop common international goals in our efforts to combat global terrorism as well as its efforts against 17 November. While there is always more for our countries to do, my own government recognizes and deeply appreciates Greece’s important contributions to make the world safer, in its efforts to build partnerships and speed progress against terrorism. As we approach the Olympic Games, Greece will become even more visible on the international stage, and I believe your counterterrorism efforts -- from your domestic preparedness program to your interagency process -- will serve as a model for other countries to replicate.
It is said that the ultimate prize for those ancient athletes who competed on Grecian fields was an olive wreath. In our own time, the olive wreath has become a symbol of peace to people around the world. Therefore, let us aim to achieve that ancient prize. In order that, when the August games have concluded without incident, those who judge the contests will once again award the olive wreath. But this time, let them award that prize not just for athletic achievement, but for the commitment we have made to ensure peace during this summer’s competition.