The secretive battle for Sochi
February 5th, 2014
08:13 AM ET

The secretive battle for Sochi

By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? The views expressed are his own.

The investment Russia has made in security to protect athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in Sochi is unprecedented – but so is the threat.

Doku Umarov, the leader of a shadowy group responsible for a number of recent terrorist bombings in Russia, has vowed to attack the Olympics – no holds barred. He has described the games as a “satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is staking a vast amount of political capital on a successful Olympics, has vowed to surround Sochi with a protective “ring of steel.”

Behind the public terrorist threats and visible security measures, though, lies a secretive contest that pits Russian counterterrorism strategists against a determined terrorist foe. The world can only guess at what capabilities or plans the terrorists may already have in place. Equally invisible are the dark strategizing and intelligence efforts of Russian counterterrorism authorities, who already may have penetrated terrorist plots.

With just days until the lighting of the Olympic flame, Russian authorities have vowed to make the Sochi Games the most secure ever. They have established a wide perimeter around the city and the venues, manned by an overwhelming force of tens of thousands of police and military. Vehicles from outside Sochi are banned. Police are going door to door searching for terrorist suspects. For the first time in Olympic history, spectators are being vetted and credentialed. Equally important, though less visible, is the intelligence gathering and analysis, the plots uncovered and arrests made. This is where Sochi security will rise or fall.

Challenges abound. Sochi’s proximity to unstable regions that are home to separatist rebels and Islamic militants raises a unique set of security concerns, with the Dagestan-based group the Caucasus Emirate a particular concern. It is the Caucasus Emirate that claimed responsibility for three bomb attacks in Volgograd in October and December in which dozens were slain, and the group has continued its psychological campaign of terror, demonstrating its credibility by releasing videos of the Volgograd suicide bombers preparing for the attacks. No Olympics has ever faced such an open and credible threat.

And Northern Caucasus terrorists have experience with attacks at sporting venues. In 2004, a bomb tore through the VIP section of Dynamo Stadium in the Chechen capital of Grozny, killing Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and several others. A second bomb hidden in the stands failed to go off.

Individual sporting venues can be more easily protected than a city of several hundred thousand people hosting an additional 200,000 athletes, officials, and spectators. Russian authorities worry about the possibility that terrorists have prepositioned weapons or already have operatives in the city, hence the door-to-door searches. And while authorities may be able to head off a large-scale armed assault in Sochi, stopping a single suicide bomber is more difficult. In addition, Russian authorities also have to contend with the possibility that terrorists may try to carry out a dramatic attack somewhere else in Russia during the Olympics to attract media attention and embarrass Putin.

Analyzing current terror trends is important, but what should really be keeping Russian counterterrorism strategists awake at night is fear of the unknown, the kind of murderous audacity seen in 2002, when Chechen terrorists seized hundreds of hostages at a theater in the heart of Moscow – 130 people died during the botched rescue.

President Barack Obama has said he believes the Olympics will be safe. But that hasn’t stopped the United States from positioning two warships in the Black Sea, apparently to help evacuate American athletes should the need arise. U.S. transport aircraft also will be at the ready, just a couple of hours away in Germany. That’s in addition to a number of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement personnel who are likely already on the ground in Sochi, although security remains under control of the Russians.

There is a lot on the line for Russia. The Moscow Olympics in 1980 were a debacle. Coming just months after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, more than 60 countries boycotted the event. Sochi signals Russia’s Olympic comeback. With the world watching, it can ill afford to be seen as being at the mercy of terrorists.

Russia seems to be taking prudent steps to make the games the safe and secure display of athleticism and international good fellowship they once were. The outcome hinges on a pair of unknowns: the secret counterterrorism strategies Russian authorities have undertaken and the terrorists’ capacity for creativity and surprise.

Post by:
Topics: Russia • Security • Sports • Terrorism

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Andrey

    Smear campaign against Russia continues: so CNN with other Western "free" mass media have got more for you in days to come!
    The Russophobes in US oligarchy that owns mass media syndicates can not sleep for they hate Russian people so much: they are in frenzy demanding correspondents and editors to forsake whatever remnants of journalist ethics and complete transformation of "freeish" press into Orwel's 1984 brainwashing machine: with 2 hours of hate every single day, instead of the lousy 2 minutes he envisioned! Because the war is on!

    February 5, 2014 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • kommy

      That's right, a smear campaign, every means are good- including calling a memorial in Brest "constipated". CNN came a hair close from to be disconnected in Russia. This is not a news program anymore, CNN become feces pusher.

      February 6, 2014 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      This is no smear campaign, but reality on the ground! Sochi is besieged by security forces and the terrorists are seeking attention and opportunities to strike. The Imarat Kavkaz (IK) poses the main danger – saying it has repeatedly expressed a desire to launch attacks and its fugitive leader, Emir Doku Umarov, called on his followers to do what they can to disrupt the Games.

      February 6, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Reply
      • joe anon 1

        the u.s. propaganda is terrorism
        what ever actual terrorist act will be courtesy of a u.s. proxy of a u.s. puppet.

        February 8, 2014 at 3:23 pm |
  2. chrissy

    I think you have that hate idea a little backwards! By the sounds of your post its you that hates the US people.

    February 5, 2014 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • I still love America better

      So true chrissy! Audrey is obviously a Russian that hates the West! What she does not know is that over 2 million Russians have quietly and desperately migrated to America over the last 20 years, so that they could experience true freedom! And over 2 million Russians have quietly migrated to Europe for the same reason in the same time period! And in the same 20 years, only 2000 Westerners have moved to Russia, ONLY and explicitly to try to do business there and are hating every minute of it, because of the awful bureaucracy, crime, KGB style politics, 3rd world atmosphere and crippling corruption!!!!!!

      February 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Reply
      • I still love America better

        Sorry, the misinformed Russian's name may actually be Andrei...... I wish I could introduce him to 2 of my Russian neighbors, right here in California, and let him hear what they have to say about Russia, and why they felt compelled to leave Russia and head for America in 1994........... and why they are so very happy that they made that decision!!!!!!!!

        February 5, 2014 at 11:42 pm |
      • ukrjew

        Living standards in US are much higher than in Russia, but all Americans don’t understand, that it’s not possible in 20 years, after Commy regime collapse, to get even close to US living standards. Russia is making fast progress to be prosper democracy, but US leaders, media and public are denying this and still keeping relation like they were during Cold War. This BS media coverage of Sochi Games is a very good example.

        February 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
      • I still love America better

        My dear ukrjew, do you know that the Russian founder of the Russian version of Facebook, who used to live in St. Petersburg, has fled Russia, and now lives in Europe! Do you know why? Because the ex-KGB Putin took over his corporation! Medvedev was trying to get INTEL, a brilliant American Corporation, to setup a factory and a design Center in Russia, and Putin killed that also! Very sad indeed. Putin is going to take Russia down into Third World country with no freedom whatsoever!!!!!!!!!

        February 6, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
    • Tim

      No. Just bored to to hell with the constant nit-picking Russia-bashing.

      February 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  3. Kathy Sundquist

    My husband and I won a contest, sponsored by Liberty Mutual, for a trip to the Olympics. We won it in November. At that time there was no talk of a terrorist attack. We have our Russian Visas and were planning on going through with the trip. We have now changed our minds and we are not going. We do not want to go anywhere where we have to fear being blown up.

    February 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • philos

      You have a bigger chance to blown up at home than in Sochi. Believe this all is just your media propaganda to don´t go to the best winter olympic games ever made...

      February 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • Tim

      You have a million or ore chances of dying in a car accident.
      Don't ever go out on the road ever again.

      February 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Reply
    • Tim

      You have a million or more chances of dying in a car accident.
      Don't ever go out on the road ever again.

      February 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  4. ukrjew

    Western media still portrayed Russia as the Evil Emporium. All news from Russia is only NEGATIVE. Olympic game is for uniting nations. What is wrong if Russia want to be host of Games? What is wrong if Russia spend 50 Billion on Games, but not on Nuke Arms?? Oh, toilet in hotel is not working!!

    February 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • kommy

      An excellent point, why one sitting in stinky one-story dog-house full asbestos and lead paint would envy a person across the ocean who did some landscaping and build a city essentially from a scratch?

      February 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  5. Brian Jenkins

    Critics may think what they like, but I fail to see how the article can be interpreted as part of a "smear campaign" directed against Russia. It reports, accurately, that a terrorist group, already responsible for a string of dreadful attacks, has vowed to attack the games. It reports, accurately that Russia has taken extraordinary measures, which I describe as "prudent steps to make the games the safe and secure display of athleticism and international good fellowship they once were." And it states, I believe accurately, the intelligence efforts we may never hear about are on the front line against terrorism.

    February 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • Rimil Huda

      Just a propaganda against R

      February 6, 2014 at 4:40 am | Reply
      • kommy

        Turn out it was a mentally unstable person who lives in Germany, who sent all this threats. But, yes, there is no reason to be complacent on safety.

        February 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
      • george

        The media propoganda is written for Russians to read.In a free country like the USA anyone can say or write anything they want, truth or lies,its just words on a piece of paper or screen.Do NOT believe what you read or hear. ONLY believe in what you see and experience. Actions always speak louder than words. Boston Marathon 2013.
        Russia warned the USA and we ignored the warning and our innocent civilians paid the price.
        These terrorists want to sacrifice their lives for their MASTERS who support them with money.Follow the money trail and this threat will disappear.
        I am 100% American. I have met alot of Russians here in the USA. They fit in perfectly. How do you say Welcome to America in Russian?

        February 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm |
  6. Danil

    Anything haters say about Russia makes not a bit of difference how a russian feels. Negativity is the best thing ever, ay better than sweet lies like some countries allow to be plunged into by corrupt goverment and media. General rule of thumb for a given country, if america says you r a good boy, you are being used somehow, if you hear negativity then you r on the right track

    February 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  7. Mike Ford

    Please pray for the safety of those at the Sochi Olympics.
    http://touchstonemag.com/merecomments/2014/02/pray-sochi-olympics/

    February 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  8. neil

    http://tasktojob.com/index.php?task=138776

    February 6, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  9. stowthrones

    Olympics – now they show up every even-numbered year. The majesty, wonder, and pageantry is gone. It is a front for political discord and whiney superstars; TV networks showing 15 minutes of sports in an hour, reciting mundane "look what obstacles they overcame" stories for 45. We never see 70 of the individual sports, just hours and hours and hours of ice dancing and figure skating...we don't even get to see the figures in figure skating.

    Image: Jean Claude Killey, Franz Klammer, or even Lhasa Kjus saying, "Kitzbuhl is just too HARD."

    The world, she is a-changin'.

    February 7, 2014 at 1:28 am | Reply
  10. factman

    Smear campaign against Russia by the western media? Hmmm.....I suppose you're not familiar with RT? Out of curiosity who controls and runs RT? This is only my opinion, but I believe American anger and disgust is geared towards your supreme leader Putin, not the hard working and suppressed Russian citizens. This article actually compliments Russian security and the measures they've taken to ensure safety. Security under these conditions would be extremely challenging for any govt to conduct period. I wish Russian law enforcement the best and thank them.

    February 7, 2014 at 3:58 am | Reply
  11. joe anon 1

    putin is leader of the free world.
    amurderka is a zionized state of terror.

    February 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Reply
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