Sochi Winter Olympics Security

Security is always a challenge especially for National-level special events like Sochi winter Olympics, summits and major sporting events. Of these events, Sochi winter Olympics security is perhaps the most challenging because the dates and locations of the Games are public and known years in advance of the games. Secondly, depending upon the location of the games, coastal or inland, and the time of year, winter or summer games, the complexity level of security grows exponentially. Next year, Russia’s Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is located on the northeast coast of the Black Sea. Shadowed by the North Caucasus Mountains that tower over the seaside resort, Islamist insurgency presents a daunting threat from all directions.

Russia touts Sochi will be the “the safest Olympics in history.” However, even with a vast security force consisting of thousands of Russian soldiers, police and private security contractors, making the Sochi Olympics the safest in history may be unrealistic. Insurgency spread across Russia’s North Caucasus region following two separatist wars during the 1990s in Chechnya. As a result, neighboring Dagestan has become the rebel center for those seeking to carve out a caliphate, or Islamic state in the region and they have targeted police and other officials in near-daily shootings and bombings. It is a dangerous place.

Make no mistake; when it comes to radical Islam, none of our enemies is confused. They do not wake up each morning thinking, “Oh, those infidels…I think I’ll seriously consider whether or not we can be friends today.” More realistically, our enemies wake up every morning and say, “You don’t believe what we believe and we hate your way of life. By the way, we hate you and we intend to kill you.” Translated, this means all peaceful and honorable people anywhere on the planet, no matter what their religious beliefs may be, are at risk and may be targeted.

So what is needed? First of all, we need to recognize that we share in a real war against radical Islamic terrorism. Think about it. Our enemies are peaceful when they’re weak. They are ruthless when they’re strong. They demand mercy when they’re losing and show no mercy when they’re winning. They understand exactly what they are doing and why they’re doing it. Is anyone so naive to believe that if the Islamic terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon on 9/11 would have had nuclear weapons at their disposal that they would not have used them against us? Anybody who has read Sun Tzu understands exactly what we are living through. It is only a matter of time – one side is going to win and one side is going to lose – weakness and indecision are simply not an option.

Many intelligence analysts’ agree that it is not a matter of if, but when terrorists’ will use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. That is why rogue states and supporters of terrorism like Iran, Syria, and N. Korea, to name a few, are so dangerous to our national security. If left unchecked, they can be counted on to supply CBRN weapons to Islamic terrorist groups who aim to destroy us. While these rogue nations have had numerous United Nations sanctions applied against them in an effort to control their reprobate activity, they have all continued their evil direction in one form or another.

A major element required for all successful national-level and international special security events is a robust emergency response capability. Guards, guns and gates, as well as physical and technical means for detection and denial of potential bad actors, are undeniably necessary measures. However, when things go wrong, the key to a successful outcome is to be able to respond appropriately, effectively, and in a timely manner to mitigate bad acts. Emergency response is the conundrum that most conventional security efforts fail to recognize or adequately address in their operational application of enhanced security measures.

When conducting contingency planning, the emergency response planners usually look backwards before looking forward, using after action reports and historical trends to develop security strategy and scope their response assets’ operational role. They are equally careful to not understate the serious, conscientious and thoughtful efforts by their many inter-agency and international partners that contribute to the direct and deliberate enforcement of collaborative security policy. They likewise share a time-honored tradition of protecting those who rely on the U.S. from those who would commit grievous harm. In a manner of speaking, they protect the prey from the predators.

When critical emergency response assets are misaligned or not adequately organized, equipped, trained and exercised, that crucial element will usually fail miserably when it is operationally applied. Successful emergency response is the product of pro-active planning refined through countless critical after-action assessments conducted on both successful and unsuccessful operations. Emergency response contingency planning requires proficiency in threat and vulnerability analysis, operational assessment, and preparation of the on-scene environment.

There is no doubt that the military plays a major role in most responses; but to what degree? Achieving a smooth jurisdictional handoff between other agency assets and the military is almost always contentious. For example, who approves a CBRN emergency disablement attempt, considering that such an attempt has a good chance of setting the device off? This is especially bad if it’s a yield-capable improvised nuclear device (IND) or radiological dispersal device (RDD). Approval authority also needs to consider compromise authority for the on-scene commander. Compromise authority simply means that the on-scene commander has pre-granted authority to make the call to do what needs to be done in the event mission presence is compromised at a critical juncture and there is no time to call higher authority for authorization.

There are a number of related elements that need to be in place to mitigate the CBRN threat. Intelligence and detection networks are certainly two of them. In addition, workable plans and effective operational procedures must be fine-tuned and operationally exercised for disposition of a potential CBRN device once the on-scene emergency response assets successfully disable it. Render-safe is different from disablement and most often a CBRN device can be moved to a more secure location away from populated areas following disablement where render safe operations can be more safely conducted. Detailed plans are required for transport, render safe and disposition under all conceivable operational conditions. The following represent some lessons learned over the past 20 years from previous Olympics.

During the Barcelona Games we learned that Joint–Combined forces must have command relationships that remain clear, unambiguous and adaptable to the evolving response structure and threat level. Staffs must train together and develop mutual trust for each other well in advance of the Games. At some point you can expect a cap to be put on the number of security and emergency response assets simply because more is not necessarily better. A “right sized” response structure is necessary and that is also true for command and control staffs.

In the Atlanta Games we learned that many different types of communications resources have been required to adequately support users’ communications requirements. This leads to interoperability problems where command and control deconfliction and direction becomes difficult, if not impossible during an emergency. It is also equipment intensive and thus manpower intensive. Communications packages need to be rethought and re-engineered to support a more mobile operation. This means that smaller, more deployable communications packages with increased bandwidth need to be palletized with an independent power supply and have single vehicle mobility. Demand for bandwidth increases with capability especially when video surveillance and conferencing is involved. This also requires increased training for the operators. In an emergency, redundant communications assets will save lives.

At the Lillehammer Games it became obvious that Command and Control staffs and responders must understand information management to include automation of routine Common Operational Picture (COP) awareness. Management of COP is manpower intensive and increased digitization of these systems requires increased training for all involved in their use. Additionally, the increased mix of digital systems not designed to work together imposes very complex problems for information flow and accurate interpretation for the command and control staff. We must always remember that increased access to information and data, especially raw, unassessed information and data, presents a whole new set of problems to command and control as well as to the responders.

The Salt Lake City Games taught us that the operational environment necessitates an increased capabilities requirement for intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination. Predictive intelligence is best achieved through the collection and fusion of multiple intelligence means. Detailed terrain analysis is critical to anticipating potential terrorist courses of action as well as our own contingency operations and consequence management should a successful attack occur. Commanders will require highly mobile reconnaissance and assessment capabilities to investigate and verify indicators and warnings. For example, remotely operated aerial vehicles are nearly useless in a winter Olympic environment. Investing in such technologies is a waste of time, funds, assets and potentially endangers the lives with which you are entrusted because you probably won’t be able to employ them when you need them most. There are better alternatives.

In the Sydney Games we learned that increased training between the military, police, other security forces and the intelligence community is necessary to ensure all tactics, techniques and operational procedures are adequately understood and are interoperable. The goal is to ensure they are not operationally conflicted with one another and that they all can respond efficiently. For example, units that employ sophisticated technology-based equipment like explosive detection scanners, chemical, biological and radiological detection and identification capabilities, metal detectors, surveillance imaging systems, special nuclear weapon disablement tools, etc., will all require a nearby secure location with individual spaces for equipment storage and daily equipment maintenance to protect their classified, highly sensitive hardware and mission. This may sound simple but believe it or not, it isn’t because of the various levels of classification and equipment sophistication involved.

In addition, and common to all major events like the Olympics, units need to clearly understand what support they may expect before they arrive in the area of operations. Olympic venues are usually spread out over many kilometers and that in itself taxes logistics. Transportation, equipment storage, lodging for security forces and other supporting response units is always difficult in an Olympic environment. They need to be close enough to react yet far enough away so as not to add to the human and vehicular congestion inherent to all major events like the Olympics. All military airlift involved should be prepared for non-standard casualty evacuation. Finally, Special Operations Forces planners and conventional force planners must coordinate closely to ensure adequate operational support. The role of objective advisors is at the strategic level, where it will be most effective and beneficial, rather than in the tactical operations center.

Little to none of the above has a technical – scientific solution of the sophistication necessary or at the operational-level most venders profess to offer. They most often have a solution they’re trying to sell and they’re looking for a problem that might fit. Few can be trusted to help steer us away from spending time and money on things that won’t work in this unique security environment. Some measures are simply not appropriate to be useful in deterrence, detection and emergency response.

We must be very clear and not encumbered by our own inability to speak candidly and honestly. The Sochi Games is a very big project – probably much bigger than anything undertaken by Russia in recent history. It will require real effort, real intensity and real determination. Security concerns must be faced now while the peaceful nations participating are still extraordinarily powerful. If the full resolution of security concerns is delayed until later under desperate circumstances, perhaps after we’ve lost a venue or a city, the terrorists will have won the day and we will have lost the Olympics.

Our enemies openly advertise their intention to kill us. They would like to possess weapons of mass destruction as soon as they can, and they openly promise to use them against us. We must do all that we can as soon as we can to create a different situation long before they have that power. While potential and real enemies have stated no specific hatred toward the Sochi Olympic Games, most terrorist entities throughout the rest of the world have yet to state their intents and may never, e.g., the recent Boston Marathon bombing making Sochi winter olympics security more important than ever. The perception that our enemies won’t target Sochi can be very disarming politically and it is exactly what must be guarded against.

Discarding a perceived threat or a nonspecific threat because it is not a communicated threat is similar to not recognizing the lethality of a gun just because it is not aimed at you the moment you look in its direction. It must always be remembered – if we find ourselves in a fair fight, we haven’t prepared well enough.

By Paul Evancoe

Paul Evancoe is a novelist and freelance writer. His action novels “Own the Night,” “Violent Peace” and “Poison Promise” deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and are available at




One Response to “Sochi Winter Olympics Security”

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military dot image Jack Whitney    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Excellent article. The last sentence sums it up perfectly!

Or, as the Old Giants Manager Leo Durocher used to say, “Nice guys finish last.”

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