In a moderated teleconference with unnamed senior administration officials on Friday, the U.S. Department of State provided a background briefing on security at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
During the briefing, the officials explained that given recent terror attacks in Russia and threats against the Olympics, the administration wanted to provide the public with "an overview of the U.S. Government’s preparations" concerning security at the Games. One official added that "Our expectation is that we'll see more reports in the coming weeks, and we know that people have questions about this issue."
With 10,000 Americans expected to attend the Olympics Games, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service has led an inter-agency International Security Event Group to work with the Russian government, Russian security services, and Russian forces to ensure a safe and secure Olympics. There is a "fairly large contingent of personnel" from various federal agencies, including the FBI, in Sochi. A joint operations center will serve as "an information hub for all of us," with information passed through the Overseas Advisory Council to the U.S. Olympic Committee and embassy consular section as needed.
Russian authorities have increased security around the Olympics sites following the release of two videos, one video as recently as January 19, that threatened attacks against the Olympic Games. Russian authorities also announced last week they are urgently searching for four "Black Widows" who are suspected of planning to attack the Olympics. Russian security services have conducted anti-terror sweeps and assured both the Olympic Committee and the world that the Games will be secure.
There are, however, "no specific evacuation plans for the Olympics," said another official, "but as you know, our combatant commanders have on the shelf American citizen evacuation plans and general guidelines just as a rule." If an evacuation were necessary, "we would be able to coordinate and consult on that and do it in a proper way."In terms of contingency planning, the United States relies first and foremost on the host country, as is the case with every Olympic Games. But obviously, both the State and Defense Departments are doing prudent planning and ensuring appropriate assets are available should they be needed by the U.S. Government or requested by the Russian Government."
Regarding the possibility of an attack, one official said "I think most of us agree with many of the outside security experts that have decided that it’s probably more likely that things may be happening at soft targets outside the actual Olympic events."
In order to stay on top of potential threats, the U.S. Embassy Moscow is the main interlocutor with the Russian government. In addition to obtaining information from the host country, "One of the most important venues for our cooperation in this regard is with our Five Eyes partners. We have been coordinating very closely with them... So we have lots of different venues and different possibilities to get ourselves the very best information, and to convey that information as well to those for whom it would be actionable to improve the security situation at the Olympics."
The Olympic Games in Sochi are scheduled to begin February 7.