Washington Learned About Potential Suicide Bombers on the Loose from Media Reports
Administration officials said they're working with Russian counterparts to help keep Sochi more secure for the Olympic Games that begin Feb. 7.
But it was also acknowledged that they only learned about a "black widow" terrorist potentially being on the loose inside the security perimeter from media reports.
President Obama has asked former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead the official delegation of 230 athletes and 270 coaches and support staff to Russia. The State Department's Diplomatic Security Service will be coordinating their security through the International Security Event Group.
"We will have a fairly large contingent of personnel in Sochi as well as we obviously have the United States Embassy in Moscow, which plays a huge role in this. In Sochi, we have Diplomatic Security agents and representatives from other agencies in the federal government, including the FBI and others. We will have people on the ground manning what we call a joint operations center, which is an information hub for all of us. We will be passing information out through OSAC, the Overseas Security Advisory Council, to American businesses and subscribers. We will be passing information directly to the U.S. Olympic Committee when we think that there is security information that needs to be passed. And we will be working closely with consular as well," an administration officials told reporters on a Friday conference call.
"On the ground in Sochi, we will have enough American diplomatic security agents so that they will be accompanying the American teams to all of the venues. They’ll be on site at all times. They’ll be available to liaise with the Russian Government security services that are there. They’ll be an interface for the Olympic Committee. And they’ll be overseeing generally the levels of security that we’re getting and making sure that our Olympic teams and our Olympic participants are as safe and secure as they can be."
Another senior administration official said "we are aware of reports of potential threats that may occur during the Olympic Games, including the media accounts we’ve seen of female suicide bombers and a video posted online claiming responsibility for the tragic bombings in Volgograd that also promised more attacks during the Sochi Games. We take all such threats seriously."
Athletes are being warned to not wear Team USA uniforms or colors outside of accredited areas. "I think it reflects just good common sense if, in fact, there are threats of terrorism. And 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," an official said.
The State Department's travel alert for Russia was updated on Friday to include more specifics on the terrorist threat. "In early January 2014, media reports emerged about the possible presence of so-called 'black widow' suicide bombers in Sochi. These reports have not been corroborated, and the U.S. government continues to seek further information. Other bombings over the past 10-15 years occurred at Russian government buildings, airports, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, and residential complexes. There have also been large-scale attacks on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights, in the same time period."
"I think that particular report came to us through the media. I – we have been aware for some time that in the entire region, that that is a type of attack that has been used before. I don’t think it surprised us that that came up on the radar screen at all," an administration official said.
"Sure, we’re frustrated we don’t know everything," another official said. "I didn't say we were frustrated with the Russian Government. I said we’re frustrated we don’t know everything. We always want more information, and you always want to – that’s in any situation, not just dealing with the Sochi Olympics. It’s a – so I guess what I’m saying is, certainly there is uncertainty. There’s uncertainty in any kind of big event like this."