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CR4 Olympic Coverage: Securing Sochi

Posted January 30, 2014 10:44 AM by HUSH

We're just about a week away from the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The pageantry will be unsurpassed as Russia plans to exhibit its cultural, economic, and athletic prowess. This will be the world's first glimpse of President Vladimir Putin's 'new Russia.' After winning the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Putin has taken the stage as the world's premier policymaker. However, in many ways, it will be the same old Russia (see: this website which tracks corruption at Sochi; Russian LGBT policies; and this album of Sochi about two weeks prior to the opening ceremony).

Yet, it seems that all of these aspects have taken a backseat to concerns about security and terrorism on Russia's coastline. The U.S. has mobilized two warships to the Black Sea in case an emergency evacuation is necessary; Great Britain has admitted it has contingency plans in place as well. While Islamic insurgents from Chechnya and Dagestan--the former being the ancestral home of the brothers who committed the heinous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing--are indeed a credible threat to this international celebration, the threats made have been sensationalized by the media and other officials. News outlets treat the menace as an absolute, and not a probability. American Senator Angus King reversed his plans to attend the games, and all-American hockey heroes Zach Parise and Ryan Suter told their families that they should not go with them to the Olympics.

Weaknesses

So what is a Putin to do? In this case, call up 100,000 in military, police, and paramilitary personnel, teach them English, French, and German, and establish a perimeter around Sochi that measures 60 miles long and 25 miles wide. This 'ring of steel' will ensure that the Olympic rings remain interlocked. While this likely means the athletes and spectators for the Olympics will remain safe, there are concerns that terrorists could strike outside the security perimeter and affect transportation or utility hubs. Not only would this strike the infrastructure of the Games, but deal a serious blow to morale.

Yet, according to GlobalSpec's sister site Jane's, this ring of steel may also be the most vulnerable part of the security measures. They note that the police called into service at Sochi are not as adept at identifying terrorist threats as their military and intelligence partners, and they are also paid much less. As a result, their inexperience or corruptibility may provide an opportunity for a terrorist strike.

But terrorists have also threatened a cyber-war on Olympic websites. Anonymous Caucuses has promised DDoS attacks on Olympic sponsor websites, but this is a small group that is not part of the larger Anonymous collective. As a result, if the Russian government can prevent perceptions that it is oppressing liberties, then Anonymous Caucuses would not likely attract the manpower and computing power needed to hack sites.

Evacuation?

IHS Jane's editor Matthew Clements told CNN in a recent interview that even if there is a terrorist attack, the U.S. or other countries intervening on Russian soil wouldn't go over well. Not only that, the logistics of evacuating thousands of foreign nationals from a single city would be a nightmare.

"In the event of a terrorist attack on someone in Sochi, even if it was around the city or venues, I don't think the idea of there being a U.S. military evacuation of their citizens from there would be a realistic prospect," said Clements.

It seems likely that the Russian government would order a very strict no-travel ordinance if an attack does take place, and it would forbid any foreign intervention.

Prevention

Instead the focus shifts to establishing the most robust counter-measures possible against a potential terrorist attack. By utilizing the latest high-tech security gadgets, security personnel are gaining a significant advantage.

The FBI has boots-on-the-ground operatives working with their Russian counterparts. They are specifically looking for 'black widows'; insurgent widows who want to follow their husbands in martyrdom. Last week, Russian officials released a wanted poster of a particular woman who was believed to already be in Sochi. In April, the FBI utilized facial and clothing recognition software when analyzing video of the Boston Marathon bombing. It has been speculated that this technology has been provided to Russian security services to help identify individuals based on personal appearances.

Most notably, the U.S. has offered Russia the technology that American forces use to detect improvised explosive devices in the field. The equipment detects cell phone and radio signals which insurgents frequently utilize to detonate homemade bombs.

While the United States has been insistent on further security collaboration, there has been significant pushback on this issue.


There has been a full spectrum of assumption regarding the security of these Olympic games. Russia is using three times as many security officers than London did for its Olympics in 2012, yet it's hosting an Olympics about half the size. It's a fair assessment that Sochi will be one of the safest places in the world next week and the Olympics itself will remain intact. While there certainly is a terrorist threat, its potential results will be felt mostly by the host nation: its pride, international standing, and citizen morale will be severely damaged.

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