As the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, swing into gear, concerns about security continue to run high. With more than 70,000 Russian security officers protecting the actual Olympic venues, Russian President Vladimir Putin has confidently described the level of protection as a “ring of steel.” That is certainly tight, but is it enough for Americans?
Within that ring of steel, the United States has a command center staffed with about 150 experienced security personnel from the FBI, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia says that he is “quite satisfied” with the cooperation of Russian security officials.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King who is also a former House Homeland Security Committee chairman, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, offered more cautious praise along with the warning that officials should keep up their guard until the games end. That is still a full two weeks away.
While Sochi security within that ring of steel seems tight enough for these American officials, security outside the venue itself may be another matter. For several weeks leading up to the opening of the games, Russian authorities have warned about a group of Chechen women whose husbands have been killed in the Chechen rebellion. The women, called Black Widows, pose a serious threat.
On ABC’s This Week, Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his own concern that the so-called Black Widows may be more dangerous because they would not need to attack the actual games. Instead, they could grab significant worldwide attention with a suicide bombing or other attack outside the games.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul also expressed concern about suicide bombers attacking train and bus terminals around Sochi in comments on Fox News Sunday. In addition, McCaul, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told viewers that the Russians have shared information about potential terrorist threats that come from outside of Russia, but have been less forthcoming about internal threats.
Ambassador McFaul told NBC’s Meet the Press that intelligence experts, by their nature, always want more information, but that does not indicate that Russian Intelligence officials are withholding information.
Perhaps Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary and head of the US delegation to the games, put all the worries and concerns into the best possible perspective. On CNN’s State of the Union, she described the security she has seen in Sochi as appropriate and even very good.
She pointed out that security is always an issue at large, international events and she acknowledged that having the Olympics geographically near a war zone places greater emphasis on security. Most importantly, she expressed the hope that world attention might now turn to the athletic performances and away from various threats.
In the end, when everything that can be done has been done, the only thing to do is to relax and enjoy the events and all the pomp and ceremony that goes along with them. Right now, it appears that security in Sochi is tight enough to satisfy the security concerns of most Americans. The truth is, it will be two weeks before Russians or Americans know for sure if the security is really tight enough to meet the challenge.
By Sharon I. Fawley
The Wall Street Journal