Russian President Vladimir Putin sits near Sochi with good company, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, and good tea. Russians expect to host and enjoy the Olympic Games, violence free. Fear mongering has been left to foreign critics.
In a February 3, 2014 USA Today article entitled, “Russian FSB Has Poor Record against Terrorists,” journalist Masha Charnay discusses the view expressed by many US security experts that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which has the lead role in security for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, has a poor track record in Russia’s fight against home-grown terrorists. For those who have dealt with the FSB, the notion that it could be considered ineffective in its security efforts would be debatable. However, in the article, Charnay cites sources such as a study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism of the University of Maryland, which asserts the frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia has been steadily increasing over the past two decades. The National Consortium study also explains that most of the attacks have happened in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia federal republics, all of which have a significant presence of Islamic militants and are in the same region as Sochi. The article’s author also spoke to Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. Kuchins was quoted as saying about the Islamic militants, “They’re Muslim jihadists, taking a page from Al-Qaeda.” Kuchins’ comment, however, veils the reality that attacks from Islamic militants in Russia have been suicide attacks. An attacker who is determined to self-destruct in an effort to destroy others is perhaps the most difficult to defend against. Albeit, any individual within a society determined for whatever reason to commit suicide is very likely to succeed, unless you have prior knowledge of the attempt and the act can be pre-empted. Proactively, security services might economically deploy personnel to prevent certain sites from being used for such purposes, particullarly by terrrosts, but unless the resources exist, no security force can truly be everywhere at once.
The reports and theories of US experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism cited in the USA Today article added to the voices of US officials who have been highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Olympic Games and the level of cooperation from Russian security service officials with their counterparts from US security organizations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Diplomatic Security Service. That criticism intensified one month before the Games after two December terrorist bombings occurred in Volgograd, 690 km northeast of Sochi, that killed 34 civilians and injured many others, and after Russian authorities made it known that they aware of credible threats posed to the Games by Islamic militants, including the presence of “black widow” suicide bombers in the vicinity of Sochi.
For their part, the Russians have displayed great patience in the face of nearly endless criticisms leveled against the Games’ organizers. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authorities have confidence in the preparations made and capabilities of their security services to keep Sochi safe and secure. As scheduled, Putin made his final review of preparations for Sochi by the first week of January. It occurred just as the blitz of criticism from US officials began, very effectively creating concerns worldwide that the Games in Sochi were not safe to visit. From the Russians’ perspective, everything that could be done had been done. It seemed unlikely that the Russians would react to any events or criticism to the extent that it would divert them from their planned approach to the Games. US officials and experts appeared to have incited the Russians, not to change their plans for Sochi, but on security matters beyond the Games. By accepting the US offer for help, the Russians placed themselves in a position to potentially acquire the benefits of billions of dollars of US defense research in a secret weapons system and enhance Russia’s military capabilities without any expenditure of their own financial resources. Those financial resources have been made more limited in Russia now as a result of its huge investment in the Games. In response to the US offer to help, the Russians requested anti-improvised explosive device (IED) technology. However it was not made to US political officials, who might have rushed to provide the system to the Russians perhaps to prove a point or out of political expedience. The request was made to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who dealt effectively with the matter.
The US Offer of “Full Assistance” to Russia
According to a January 21, 2014 Moscow Times article, the Russian request for anti-IED technology came on January 21, 2014, when the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, met in Brussels with his Russian counterpart, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov. During their meeting, in the name of supporting Russian efforts to create a safe and secure Olympics, Dempsey made a nearly open-ended offer to Gerasimov to provide “full assistance” from the US military. It is difficult to know whether there was some discussion that Dempsey would make this generous offer to help during any advance meetings between US and Russian military officials before the meeting of their chiefs. If that was the case, all of the security services in Russia most likely would have come together to discuss what exactly should be requested from the US in response to its offer. When the “green light” was given to respond favorably to the US offer, it most likely initiated a type of feeding frenzy among them. Undoubtedly, FSB as well as the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the Main Intelligence Directorate from the armed forces (GRU), and even the Ministry of the Interior likely had intelligence requirements (specific information) that they were determined to collect from the US.
Some requests considered by the Russian security services may have been as simple as asking the US to cover the costs for the deployment of greater numbers of Russian security men in and around Sochi. The Russians could have asked the US to provide all of the data the US has compiled on the activities of Islamic militants operating at home and abroad that the Russians may not possess. Questionable requests may have been considered, such as obtaining the latest surveillance and encryption deciphering technology from the National Security Agency that would prevent Islamic militants from planning beyond the Russian authorities’ ability to monitor them and to increase the Russian security service capability to monitor workers and visitors in and around Sochi to better defend against attack. Unreasonable requests might have included obtaining the names and locations of US intelligence officers and their Russian agents. By providing that information, the Russian security services presumably would have released security officers from counter-intelligence activities against the US and allow them to be redeployed for protective security and intelligence gathering duties in Sochi. However, that request, as absurd as it may seem, would likely have been be off-putting enough to the US officials that it would have dissuaded them from continuing to offer assistance or offer to cooperate with the Russians on Sochi.
The Response to Gerasimov’s Request
The eventual request for anti-IED technology was plausible to the extent that Islamic militants could have used roadside bombs against Russian government or civilian vehicle at the Games. The funny thing is that Russian Islamic militants are more likely to carry out a martyrdom operation (suicide attack) than plant a roadside bomb and detonate it by remote control or cellphone. (It could very well be that Islamic militants from outside Russia who might use IEDs are considered a threat to the Games.) If the request was an attempt to exploit US concerns and generosity, that all stopped with Dempsey. Dempsey was unfazed by Gerasimov’s request, and by his actions proved he has great situational awareness not only on the battlefield but also during diplomatic talks. He knows very well that it took considerable effort and expense to the US military to develop and acquire the anti-IED technology to protect troops on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. He fully understands the implications of just giving it away. However, Dempsey was respectful of the Russians’ request. He understood that it was after all the job of the Russian security services to seek advantages over potential adversaries, and an effort by the Russians to exploit the thinking among US political officials was predictable. Regarding the entreaty for anti-IED technology by the Russians, Dempsey told the Armed Forces Press Service , “We would favorably consider requests from them.” However, he also pointed out the likelihood of compatibility problems between US anti-IED technology and Russian equipment, something it seems the Russian security services or Gerasimov did not fully appreciate.
US anti-IED technology, according to a January 21, 2014 New York Times article, was designed to detect and disrupt cellphone or radio signals used by militants to detonate improvised explosives from a distance. However, it also could muddle electronic signals, creating a situation where competing and overlapping systems cancelled out the effectiveness of other systems in use at the same time and in the same area. As Dempsey explained, “If you are not careful, you can actually degrade capability, not enhance it.” For that reason, Dempsey insisted on having US and Russian technical experts make certain that the US systems could be integrated into the communications networks and security systems being set in place by Russia.
After mitigating its negative connotations, Dempsey used the opportunity of the Russian request for anti-IED technology to emphasize the importance of military-to-military contacts between the US and Russia. He emphasized the value of having the military chiefs even when at some points there are disagreements, whether political or diplomatic, that could prevent the “forward movement” in other parts of the relationship. (See greatcharlie.com August 17, 2013 post entitled, “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”)
This is greatcharlie.com’s last commentary on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi. Instead of sparking discussion about sports, the name Sochi, itself, has been politicized. It is associated with criticisms from US officials over the inability of Putin and Russian authorities to meet the standards proffered for security. However, in the final analysis, the Russians have done whatever possible to pre-empt and stop any violence at the Games. The repeated proffering of predictions that an attack will occur and the complaints about what has been put in place to halt terrorism smacks more of fear mongering than an expression of concern or support. Putin has achieved his objective, and Sochi is safe and secure. A good bet for the Games would be that no attacks will occur and everything will go smoothly. An even better bet is that after the Closing Ceremony on February 24th, those watching far from Sochi, those visiting the Games, and those athletes who are competing in them will be filled with the spirit of the Olympics, and anxiously awaiting the next Winter Olympic Games in four years.