Homeland Security Expert: Threats of Sochi Olympics Terrorist Activity Are Credible
“It’s not unfair to assume that a tragedy could unfold,” said Anthony Amore, a professor at Fisher College.
As the Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi, Russia, intelligence officials from around the world have been collaborating to ensure that serious threats to the security of the international competition are thwarted. But despite their concerted efforts, experts said Friday that the chances of terrorist activity hitting the region are extremely serious and that the threats are very real.
“It’s as great as it can get. The fear amongst national security people around the world, with teams participating to prevent it, is pretty high. I can’t recall a similar event where a terror attack was anticipated, if not expected, like this,” said Anthony Amore, a homeland security expert and professor at Fisher College.
Amore, who is the former Assistant Federal Security Director for the Transportation Security Administration, where he worked on security at Logan Airport after the attacks on 9/11, said the likelihood of an attack at the games in in nearby cities is hard to put an exact percentage on, but based on what he has heard circulating among the security field, it’s not unfair to assume that a tragedy could unfold.
“Some people even say very likely, and that is incredibly rare in these situations. I would say the systems are blinking red on Sochi,” said Amore.
Already, the U.S. has dedicated war ships waiting along the coastline in the Black Sea, ready to scoop up American visitors and Olympic participants in the event of credible or actual threat. “That’s a giant message. That’s a really strong message,” said Amore.
Security concerns at Sochi have ranged from the threat of Internet takeovers to toothpaste bombings, and inside jobs at the hands of what are known as “Black Widows,” but Russian President Vladmir Putin has vowed that the government is exhausting its resources to make sure the games go off without incident—at least in the sense of national security.
“If we betray weakness, betray fear—display our fear—then we will be helping terrorists achieve their goals,” Putin said in a statement ahead of the opening ceremonies this week. The Russian official has even set up a “ring of steel” made up of 100,000 security forces to help keep the community safe from the threats of terrorists.
Security officials have downplayed the rumors of potential terrorist activity, going as far as telling reporters that “there is no reason to believe that the level of danger in Sochi is greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London, New York, or Washington.”
Although Amore said that Russia has pushed the limits in terms of security measures and launched drone surveillance and widespread digital surveillance by monitoring telephone and Internet activities, the risk of an attack even outside of the actual ceremonies is still there.
“I would say the Russian Federations are doing everything they can. You can’t fault them for the front they are putting up with 100,000 troops manning this ring of steel they set up, and using drones and helicopters. And that’s in addition to typical stuff like cameras,” said Amore. “But it’s a daunting task to keep watch. It’s a huge undertaking to try and protect everything. Leaders of jihadist groups have called for some sort of attack, and these groups usually come through.”
Amore said there has been so much media coverage about the possibility of an attack that it has certainly instilled a great deal of fear into the minds of attendees and athletes. He said an attack on the Olympics in Sochi doesn’t have to happen in order for the terrorists to claim a victory, however. Because so many resources are being drained to keep an eye on the public in that one region, the possibility of attacks on outside cities and towns, or the Northern Caucasus, a dangerous region between the Black and Caspian Seas, would be easier.
“There is a vulnerability anytime you revert all of your resources to one location. If you’re a terrorist and you don’t hit the Olympics, but you blow up a train depot, you have succeeded. It would be a huge success and still instill fear,” he said. “Any rational person who read the paper knows there is a serious threat. There is a real reason to be very cautious. This is the most intense I have seen it. But if the Russian Federation is able to prevent any attack, then they would have pulled off a major security undertaking. It would be a tremendous work.”