Danger looms at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but is Russia's security up to snuff?

Threats of terrorism and extensive security measures suggest that Sochi is preparing to host an Olympics like none other

$51 billion.

That's how much has been spent on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia so far, with the final tab projected to be even higher. Though various elements factor into this being the costliest Olympics ever – to put things into perspective, China spent $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Olympics – security is a big one.

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"This is going to be an unprecedented event, where it's going to be held in very close proximity to a very active, unstable region of the world," said Bill Besse, vice president of consulting and investigations for Andrews International LLC, an affiliate of U. S. Security Associates.

Indeed, given the current political climate surrounding Russia, the threat level is arguably greater than usual and calls for some of the most stringent security the world has ever seen at any Olympic Games.

"I think there's an unprecedented level of security in Sochi using cutting edge technology," said Besse, who reiterated that the key would be to integrate the various forms of said technology. But he also added that any potential incidents may not occur in Sochi itself.

Like most Olympic venues, Sochi will be a very hard target to attack given how much it will be hardened by visible security. So instead, an incident or attack may occur somewhere else in the Russian federation from which the forces have been redeployed to beef up security in Sochi. "So if [attackers] can't get to Sochi, perhaps the plan will be for some kind of event somewhere else," said Besse.

Whether an attack takes place in Sochi or elsewhere in Russia, the country playing host to the Games would prove to be a perfect platform for extremist groups to make a statement.

"Broadcast television is going to be lifted to unprecedented levels in Sochi," he said. "Not only will there be broadcast quality TV, the Olympic Games are going to be covered with real-time streaming video. What does that translate into? It translates into wonderful Olympic games, but also an unbelievably attractive target for a terrorist or extremist move, or for a political or special interest group that wants to send a message to the world."

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"It's a Russian show"

Though threats are clearly present, the burden won't fall entirely on Russia to defend itself, even if the hosting country appears to want to lead the initiative. Once Sochi was confirmed as the site for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russia implemented its "Safe City Initiative" as a holistic approach to not just create a safer city, but a better city.

"[The Safe City Initiative] is not just security," said Besse. "It's transportation, protection of infrastructure like power, energy, and telecom. It's protection of hotels and restaurants. And it's all to comprehensively provide a contemporary city with a safe environment where economic development can take place rather than be repressed by crime and terrorism and fear."

Besse speculated that there would be a high degree of communications between the Russians and different security teams that are visiting Russia, but reiterated that the Russians are taking the reins. "At one time, we had offered security intelligence to the Russians and it was pushed back on. It's a Russian show, and they're well equipped to secure it."

Ultimately, it will be up to Russia as to just how much outside help – and armed forces – it will bring into the country. While Russian armed forces are involved in the security plan, this has usually been the case for many Olympic venues in the past. But aside from military forces and SWAT-like team units for rapid response, the Russians will also deploy sonar systems and anti-missile batteries around Sochi to guard against attacks from both air and sea.

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Beyond the visible military presence, there will also be what Besse referred to as "not-so-visible operations," including undercover operations. There will also be equipment being used to constantly monitor the air for hazardous materials, as well as drones over both Sochi and the nearby mountain regions to provide intelligence. Meanwhile, cybersecurity measures are also in place, like the monitoring of digital conversations ("I don't think people can expect much privacy," said Besse); DPI packet inspection technology will allow all conversations that take place via Wi-Fi to be intercepted and monitored by the government.

Besse also pointed out that there are two venues at which Olympic events would be taking place: the mountain venue (for most of the outdoor events like skiing) and the coastal venue (for the ceremonies and indoor events like skating). The two are widely separated and each have their own issues associated with them, but their sizes, the crowds, and the power requirements are common traits across both venues.

Russia, then, has no shortage of concerns to address when trying to map out a comprehensive security plan for the Games in Sochi. One major aspect of the physical security in Sochi would be stringent access control, both to the event venues and to the Olympic village.

"There are intelligent, analytic, smart surveillance systems out there these days, and there are sophisticated access control systems that limit access to sensitive areas," said Besse. Access to the Olympic Village, he added, is a key function in security for the Olympics, as it's a target for extremist and terrorist activity.

"What I have found out about security with large events is that it will be implemented in zones and in layers," said Besse. "So access control is very important and has been in place for many weeks. They have security zones spread across the whole country and especially in the south near the Olympic venue."

Some of the other security measures include CCTV ("Hundreds, if not thousands of CCTV cameras capable of detecting a package being left behind at a particular site, or a vehicle traveling the wrong way or standing in one position for a prolonged period, or even having the capacity of counting cars and detecting overloaded traffic lanes," said Besse), crowd control, and a significant military/police presence. A recent Bloomberg report indicated that Russian president Vladimir Putin has deployed 40,000 police and special service officers in what is being dubbed the "Ring of Steel" to battle the threat of Islamic militants.

"The groups that Russia is militant against over there are very determined to make some kind of statement and are motivated by a very deeply rooted cause," said Besse.

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It would appear that Besse's assessment of the highly motivated attacks is accurate, as pre-Olympic terrorist attacks have already begun in surrounding areas. Just last month, there was a suicide bombing in the southern city of Volgograd (less than 430 miles from Sochi), killing over 30 people. An Islamic militant group took responsibility for the attacks in a video released shortly thereafter, while also threatening additional attacks during the games.

There is also the concern of what have been referred to as "black widow" attacks, where wives of militant jihadists who have died during the conflict between the Northern Caucasus and Russia lead or participate in suicide bombings. Since the early 2000s, there have been a number of terrorist attacks made by females from Chechnya and other nearby regions that are intended to promote separatism for the North Caucasus.

In fact, the "Ring of Steel," which covers an area spanning approximately 1,500 miles, may have already been penetrated by one of these so-called black widows, as Russian authorities have been on high alert since last week looking for a woman named Ruzanna Ibragimova. According to a CNN report, police and hotel staff have issued fliers that contain information about Ibragimova and indicate that the authorities received information about her recent arrival in the region.

The flier states that she may be involved in organizing "a terrorist act within the 2014 Olympic region."

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Bringing it all together

What's most important according to Besse, however, is that none of the individual security systems stand alone. "These systems have to be integrated into a single operating package so that very smart people can take all this data that's being gathered and put some analysis to it," he said. "Then, the whole security package can be proactive and preventative in nature."

In other words, the Russians are using their tools for access controls, surveillance, etc., but then taking the data that they generate and coming up with an intelligent package. That way, the data can be put to use for deciding where resources can be allocated or reallocated.

"This seems to be a trend where a major city or enterprise that covers a large geographical area has all kinds of operational issues that they want to be able to control and do so in an intelligent manner," said Besse. Numerous factors including traffic, crowd control, approaches from the nearby Black Sea, railways, airlines, and highways all play into the physical security surrounding the Olympic Games.

"The thing that will really make [the security approach] successful is if they can integrate all these things and set up an intelligent security operation and command center," Besse reiterated. "That way, security forces will have an early warning if some sort of anomaly is going on."

The specific technology that was chosen by Russia to integrate all of the information that security teams are receiving from arms systems, access systems, etc., comes from NICE (Neptune Intelligence Computer Engineering) Systems, an Israeli company that specializes in security and data analysis.

"[NICE] has a large integration system platform that has all kinds of features associated with it," said Besse. "But it takes points of data – video images, radio communications, phone calls, access control alarms – and blends it all into a single operating system that interacts with all of that so that intelligent decisions can be made across a large spectrum of events and geography."

Finally, Besse pointed out that the key to the command centers is that they receive all of the information from the various security measures in real time.

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"It's another reason why they need to be integrated into a robust system," he said. "Then they can develop plans, reactions, and responses that are intelligence-based, not just reactive-based."

Thinking on a smaller scale

Of course, this is all just big picture security. What about VIPs – including politicians and celebrities – that may be attending the Olympics? To give an idea of how some types of specific protection would be provided, Besse used the example of Janet Napolitano, former head of homeland security, who will be leading the US delegation for the Winter Games.

"[Napolitano's] protection will be provided by US diplomatic security teams there," said Besse. "We have a cordial and cooperative relationship with the Russian security services, so we can make special arrangements and have access to their communications technologies."

Obviously, VIPs like Napolitano are naturally seen as potential targets for terrorism or political statements. Therefore, Besse explained, contingency planning will not only be important for getting VIPs into the country, but also for getting them out; traffic, for instance, will be a significant issue. If there is some sort of event or attack, there needs to be planning for how it will be handled and to where these people will be evacuated.

"It's all part of what goes into providing security for a global event," he said. "Knowing how to respond to any event that might occur."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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