Congressman Michael McCaul

Representing the 10th District of Texas

McCaul: Sochi threats are real, but security is tight

Feb 6, 2014
Op-Eds

McCaul: Sochi threats are real, but security is tight
By: Michael McCaul 

This weekend, the world is watching the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While any large event requires extra attention to security, the threats surrounding the Sochi games have made security preparations more important than ever.

Sochi is located near parts of the northern Caucasus region, an area known as a hotbed of jihadist insurgents. Russia has long fought to disrupt violence in the northern Caucasus, but over the past two decades the fight has progressed from a rebel movement to a jihadist fight to implement sharia law.

In July, Doku Umarov, leader of the terrorist organization Caucasus Emirate (known in Russian as the Imirat Kavkaz or IK) and self-proclaimed emir of the northern Caucasus, threatened to disrupt the Sochi Winter Olympics. IK poses the largest terror threat in Russia and according to the United Nations the organization has ties to al-Qaida.

Last month, suicide bombers carried out two attacks within 24 hours in the Russian city of Volgograd. More than 30 civilians were killed at a train station and on a trolleybus. In October, a suicide bombing on a bus in Volgograd killed six people.

The extremist ties of the region were highlighted by the Boston bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of two brothers who carried out the attack on the Boston Marathon last April, previously traveled to Dagestan in the northern Caucasus region and allegedly attempted to join insurgents in their fight.

I recently traveled to Sochi to meet with Russian and American officials, and to examine security measures in place. Security for the Olympics is the responsibility of the host nation, and this operation is the most fortified we’ve ever seen in the history of the Olympics. It includes what the Russians call a “ring of steel” that stretches from the resort city of Sochi on the Black Sea, well into the mountains surrounding the outdoor Olympic venues.

According to Russian officials, about 100,000 security officials including military forces have been deployed to the area. They began limiting access to the city by road and regularly deploying troops and anti-aircraft weeks before athletes and spectators began to arrive.

While I believe this ring is fortified and that every precaution has been taken to secure the event venues and Olympic Village, it is the proximity of the Olympics to the terrorist region that is concerning.

Suicide bombers known as “black widows” have threatened to avenge the deaths of their husbands killed in the Jihadist struggle against Russia’s Foreign Security Service (FSB). With the ring of steel in place, I believe it is more likely these terrorists will attack “soft” targets outside the security perimeter, such as public transportation, where they can make the same political statement.

For each Olympics, the United States reaches out to the host nation to offer assistance in improving security and works to guarantee the safety of American athletes and spectators. The lead U.S. agency responsible for this effort is the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which has been working diligently over the last few years to build cooperation with Russia relating to the Olympics.

DS has set up an American Citizen Services post in Sochi and is coordinating with multiple U.S. agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, in working with Russian officials to make the Sochi games as safe as possible. Representatives from DHS have traveled to Sochi to conduct security assessments, including a review of airport security.

By all accounts, cooperation between the Russians and American officials has been strong. However, the intelligence-sharing must improve. The Russians have not been completely candid with us about the threat that exists. Had they been more transparent, I am confident the U.S. Intelligence Community could provide valuable assistance and better assurances for safety.

I have been asked many times since I’ve returned from Russia whether the Olympics are safe. My candid response is that security is never a guarantee — whether it’s in Sochi, or in the United States.

The Olympic Games are historic. My advice is to be aware, not afraid. To not attend and support our athletes would give the terrorists a victory. I am encouraged that over the next two weeks the security in place will prevent a disruption of the games. And like all Americans, I’ll be cheering on our athletes to bring home the gold.

Rep. Michael McCaul is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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