Now that the super-secure, super-lame Super Bowl is a distant memory, focus has shifted across the Atlantic to Sochi, Russia and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. While athletics is in the forefront of everyone’s mind, the security of the games has been a close second topic of discussion. Many are touting the Motherland’s efforts, while continued reports are surfacing about threats to the Games. We’ve compiled a rundown of the major stories surrounding the security of the Olympics, from Black Widows to Rings of Steel, and much more.
Sochi to Be the Tightest Olympic Security in History
The top story going into the Sochi Winter Olympics, which officially began on Friday, was and continues to be security; stories of security issues, technology concerns, terrorism, and threats of bombings, violence, and kidnappings have dominated front pages worldwide. Russia is working to confront the problem, especially around the Olympic grounds themselves, and the resort town nestled on the east coast of the Black Sea that houses most of them. Historians and experts alike are saying that Sochi will feature the heaviest Olympics security ever. This security makes sense, according to an NPR interview with Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the North Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group since Sochi is “in such close proximity to the most active insurgency crisis in Europe,” the Islamic militants in the North Caucasus.
Read more at NPR
Terrorist Bombings Across Eastern Russia Cause U.S. to Doubt Russian Security
Volgograd, previously named Leningrad, has been the site of several deadly suicide bombings since October 2013. The major city sits roughly 400 miles from Sochi, but is expected to be one of the major starting-off points for those who make the trek to the site of the winter Olympics. It’s also even closer to the roiling Northern Caucasus.
One of the most recent bombings, a December 30, 2013, attack that killed at least 17, saw a blast rip through a trolleybus during the morning commute. All the civil unrest has security officials in the United States and elsewhere extremely concerned about Russian security outside of Sochi, in what they call “soft zones” of limited security, because these are where many local athletes and tourists may find lodging. And of course, the militants have threatened the entire region, not just Sochi.
Read more at ABC News
Sochi Security Force Includes Tens of Thousands Russian Agents
The most obvious sign of Russia’s security effort is the 70,000 security personnel, a combination of special services and law enforcement, who are already in place in and around the main compounds in Sochi. The force is comprised of over 30 federal and regional organizations with centralized oversight in the body of the security situation committed, which includes the cooperation of over 100 foreign security experts. Most of the security forces are concentrated in the immediate area of Sochi around the lodging center or in the nearby mountain resort that has been converted into the snowy competition center.
Read more at The Globe and Mail
U.S. Anti-Explosive Tech Will Be on Hand to Help Russian Military Keep Sochi Safe
Although Russia seems to have refused most offers of explicit help from the United States, they did accept the chance to put U.S. anti-explosive devices to use to help keep bombs out of Sochi. Both countries hope that this advanced technology and information will empower security forces in Sochi to combat improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The technology detects and disrupts cell and radio signals that are often used to detonate bombs from a distance, according to a New York Times article.
Read more at the Moscow Times
New Surveillance Standard Is the Target for Sochi Olympics Security
Technology will play an important role in the Sochi Olympics, especially from a security standpoint. The U.S. State Department recently issued the warning that “visitors to Russia should have no expectation of privacy” at the Olympics or anywhere else. Experts have extended the warning further for athletes and anyone else at the games, saying “The coming Olympics will see the most invasive security measures the Games have ever seen.” These measures include special technology that allows authorities to filter emails and track online conversations via WiFi networks; meaning every call, text, and social media message is accessible and traceable. Underwater sonar and machine guns, robotic drones, and thousands of cameras will be used to ensure security at the games.
Read more at cbcnews
Sochi a Hacking “Minefield” for Anyone with Electronics at the Games
NBC News recently released a report on Sochi detailing how “hackers are having a field day with unsuspecting Sochi visitors” and their electronic devices. The report is based on a field test reporters conducted with test computers at a café in Sochi. The two computers were hit with malware via the café’s WiFi within minutes. Software on the computer tracked this activity, and identified deeper hacking and slaving of the computers, including keylogging and other activities that occurred within the next hour or so. Their experience led them to believe visitors using electronic devices without sufficient protection walls will be quickly overwhelmed by hackers.
Read more at CNET
Olympic Security Trying to Give “Ring of Steel” Security a Friendly Face
Despite Putin’s claims that the Olympic security force will create a “Ring of Steel” to surround and protect the Games with an impenetrable barrier of security, Russian officials on the ground in Sochi are trying to minimize the feeling of omnipresent security by having officers on the streets behave in a friendly and polite manner. Guards are everywhere and searches of nearly everything are thorough, but they tend to be amiable and are not often heavily armed, at least so far.
Read more at the Boston Globe
Black Widow Video Spurs Greater Security Fears
One of the earliest of the concrete security scares that began stirring the pot was the “black widow” video threatening a suicide bombing attack on Sochi in mid January. At the time, officials were concerned that one of these so-called “black widows,” Islamic women whose husbands were killed by security forces, had arrived in Sochi in early January. They later announced they were on the hunt for as many as four suspected “black widows” in the area. Wanted posters were circulated to nearby hotels in an effort to capture the suspects. The threats come out of the Caucasus, a mountainous region in southern Russia where Muslims are fighting for independence to start an Islamic-rules state.
Read more at NBC News
Washington Counterterrorism Experts Warn of Potential Sarin Gas Attack at Sochi
As if worries of suicide bombings across southeastern Russia weren’t enough, experts in Washington are warning of the threat of a sarin gas attack on Sochi as well. Somewhere around $2 billion in Russian security measures have already shown to be pervious; see the previous section on the Black Widow. No proof of gas has materialized, however; experts worry that the major Islamist militant groups from the Caucasus fighting alongside Syrian rebels could obtain chemical weapons from the Syrian government to be used in Sochi.
Read more at Foreign Policy (subscription required)
U.S. Warships Making Way to Black Sea for Olympics Security in Sochi
On Wednesday, the Pentagon officially announced a plan to give U.S. commanders increased strategic options in the event of an incident in Sochi. The amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney and the frigate USS Taylor have begun “routine security operations and patrols” in the Black Sea as a “just in case” option. Stationed in the area near Sochi, the ships give U.S. officials a more tangible, immediate presence in the region so they can respond effectively if necessary, blatantly demonstrating limited faith in Russia’s ability to maintain security.
Read more at Politico