SBD/January 20, 2014/Olympics

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  • U.S. Officials Express Concern Over Sochi Security, Citing Lack Of Information About Threats

    About 40,000 police and special forces officers will provide security in Sochi

    Tensions rose yesterday over security preparations ahead of the Sochi Games, as U.S. congressional leaders "expressed concern about Russia’s willingness to share information about terrorist threats," according to Brian Knowlton of the N.Y. TIMES. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) yesterday said U.S. officials working with Russians had "found a departure of cooperation that is very concerning." He added, "They’re not giving us the full story about, what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about, are those groups -- the terrorist groups who have had some success -- are they still plotting?” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/20). U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said of Americans travelling to Sochi, "I would not go, and I don't think I would send my family." Rogers said, "We don't seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games" (USATODAY.com, 1/19). ABC's Brian Ross this morning noted there is a "new threat from the very terror group responsible" for last month's bombings in Volgograd, with U.S. authorities studying a videotape of "two alleged terrorists reported to be the suicide bombers who carried out the recent attacks." Georgetown Univ. national security professor Christopher Swift said the Russian government "will be lucky if they're able to get through the Olympics without an incident" ("GMA," ABC, 1/20). U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the "threats are real" to the Games' security. McCaul said "we have to be optimistic that we can go forward with the Olympics successfully," but added he is "concerned" ("GMA," ABC, 1/20). 

    PUTIN CONFIDENT: Russia President Vladimir Putin on Friday said that "about 40,000 police and special forces officers will be enforcing security at the Games under the command of a special round-the-clock headquarters." Putin added that the "concentration of measures in and around Sochi will not undermine security in other parts of Russia" (L.A. TIMES, 1/20). Putin said, "We will try to make sure that the security measures taken aren't too intrusive or visible and that they won't put pressure on the athletes, guests and journalists. At the same time, we will do our best to ensure that these measures are efficient" (AP, 1/17). In N.Y., Steven Lee Myers wrote Sochi "may now be the safest city in Russia." Putin has "put in place what officials and experts described as the most intensive security apparatus in the history of the event, one that critics say threatens to temper the spirit of the Games." The security includes "imposing a ban on vehicles that are not registered in the region and requiring even Russians who visit to register with the police within three days, as foreigners must do" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). ABC's George Stephanopoulos said Putin has been "fighting for these Games since 2007, he needs them to be safe, he needs them to be successful" ("GMA," ABC, 1/20). PBS' Tavis Smiley said Putin is "concerned, as he should be, that people aren't going to show up because they're afraid of what might happen" ("This Week," ABC, 1/20). 

    UNEASY ALLIANCE: U.S. officials said that the nation is "sending fewer American security experts to Sochi than to any Games over the past decade." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Barrett, Gorman & Grossman reported that is "due largely to long-standing intelligence rivalries between the two countries and because Russia's own security blanket over the Games is already extensive." About 40 FBI personnel "have been sent to Russia," compared with "about 50" at the '12 London Games (WSJ.com, 1/19). REUTERS' Mark Hosenball reported U.S. military and intelligence officials "have been studying contingency plans for evacuating Americans from the Games in case of a crisis." But a source said that U.S. officials have "concluded there would be major obstacles to mounting a large-scale effort by the military or other U.S. government resources to evacuate Americans from Sochi." Hosenball reported the "most formidable roadblock U.S. officials have discussed regarding contingency plans for Sochi is that Russian authorities have historically been reluctant to allow foreign military forces, especially those of the United States, on Russian territory" (REUTERS, 1/19). Former CIA Deputy Dir Michael Morell said a concerning aspect about security is "most countries who host Olympics cooperate with the international community extensively in securing those games Russia has not done that." ("CBS This Morning," 1/20). 

    KEEPING AN EYE ON ATHLETES: In Boston, Jordan Graham reports the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association is relying on Boston-based Global Rescue "to get its team members out of a tight spot in the event of a terrorist attack or other crisis." Global Rescue CEO Dan Richards said, "We’re helping them prepare for not only medical but security (services)." The company has been "providing medical services for USSA for eight years, but will be bulking up to deal with any potential security concerns" during the Games. The company said that it "will have 'up to a half dozen aircraft' to assist with medical and security-related evacuations" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/20). U.S. freeskier Devin Logan said, "I think the Olympic village will be so secure, I'm not really nervous. They'll have us covered" (DENVER POST, 1/19).

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  • Putin Denies Widespread Corruption At Sochi Games, Tabs Construction Costs At $6.5B

    Putin excluded the cost of added infrastructure from his $6.5B construction estimate

    Russia President Vladimir Putin yesterday denied that any "large-scale corruption surrounded the Sochi Winter Olympics and challenged those with allegations of misconduct to come forward with proof," according to Thomas Grove of REUTERS. Putin: "We don't see any large-scale instances of corruption during our preparations ... in Sochi. If anyone has any information about corruption in Sochi, please hand it over, we will be glad and grateful" (REUTERS, 1/19). Meanwhile, in L.A., Sergei Loiko notes Putin "put the final figure for construction costs associated with the Olympics" at $6.5B, a "far cry" from the $50B estimated by Kremlin critics and some Russian officials. However, Putin acknowledged that his sum "might be on the low side." He added, "If we take into account the expenses associated with the development of relevant infrastructure, the sum may be larger, but those expenses are not directly related to the Olympic Games" (L.A. TIMES, 1/20).

    ALLAYING CONCERNS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Alexander Kolyandr noted Putin "offered assurances that gays would be welcome" in Russia during the Olympics. He said, "People have different sexual orientation, and we welcome all the guests and the athletes." However, he "criticized what he called attempts to politicize the Olympics." Putin: "The Olympics is not a competition of politicians. It is a competition of athletes." He said mixing sports and politics was "absolutely inappropriate" (WSJ.com, 1/19).

    FILLING SEATS: In L.A., David Wharton reported Putin "told volunteers they might be allowed to fill the empty seats" at the Games because organizers are reporting 30% of tickets remain unsold. Putin said, "Why should places go empty? It's better that they're filled, and occupied by people who love sport." Higher-priced tickets for 73 medal events "have yet to be sold," and this includes seats for alpine skiing and the men's hockey Bronze-Medal game (LATIMES.com, 1/18).

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