FBI limited by Russians for Olympics
WASHINGTON — In February 2012, David Rubincam, the FBI's legal attache in Moscow, escorted a group of Russian security officials to observe security arrangements at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
The delegation from the Federal Security Services, known as the FSB, wondered why the stadium wasn't brimming with armed troops. It hadn't occurred to the Russians that private security firms working for the event's sponsors had been integrated into the overall counterterrorism effort.
They were surprised “by some things that were really kind of eye-openers,” said Rubincam, who explained to the five senior officers that “we have tons of security in place, but the participants don't see it. That's what you want.”
Rubincam hopes the lessons the Russians learned at the Super Bowl will help make the Winter Olympics in Sochi safer. But he's not sure, and neither are some other current and former American security officials.
Although the Russians are relying on a show of force at the Games, deploying 40,000 heavily armed police and other security officials to the area, the security risks are regarded as unusually high compared with past Olympics. The main threat emanates from Islamic radicals who are based in the nearby Caucasus and who have vowed to attack during the event.
Last month, suicide bombers struck twice in the city of Volgograd, killing 34 people and injuring scores at a train station and on a moving bus. Fears were heightened this week when Russian security officials asked for the public's help to locate a female suicide bomber who may be in Sochi.
The State Department has issued an advisory for Americans traveling to the Olympics, which open Feb. 7. Thousands of Americans are expected to attend.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday that American officials had seen an “uptick in threat-reporting prior to the Olympics” but added that it was not unusual to see such a rise ahead of a major international event. Lisa Monaco, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, is leading an interagency panel to coordinate American support for the Games.
Rubincam, who served as the FBI's top representative in Moscow from May 2011 to October 2012, said the Russians have been reluctant to accept American aid in securing Sochi and are suspicious of the offers of assistance.
Former FBI agent Jim Treacy, who worked in Moscow as a legal attache, said the Russians would be “equally concerned as our folks being involved in intelligence-gathering while doing security and counterterrorism.”
Rubincam said that by September 2011, he had started trying to work with the Russians in planning for Sochi. The discussions were complicated by larger diplomatic strains in the relationship that only deepened after Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.
“When I got there, the cooperation on terrorism had fallen to zero,” Rubincam said. The limits of the relationship were highlighted by the Boston Marathon bombing, after which American and Russian officials blamed each other for not following leads that might have identified two ethnic Chechen brothers before they were implicated in carrying out the attack.
The United States offered to send as many as 100 personnel to Sochi, including the FBI's highly regarded bomb technicians. Rubincam said the FBI had a laundry list of capabilities that the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group could bring to bear. The Russians refused, he said, and countered that the United States could dispatch up to a dozen or so security officers.
“What they came back with was a fraction of what we offered,” said Rubincam, who visited Sochi twice.
The message was clear, Rubincam recalled: “You can show up, but you're just going to be window dressing.”
In the end, the FBI settled on sending a few dozen agents to Russia. Some will operate out of the American Embassy in Moscow, where they can handle classified information securely. Others will be on the ground at a shared facility in Sochi. Agents will be unarmed. The FBI will work closely with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security service.
In comparison, for the Athens Games in 2004, the FBI sent 150 agents and the Defense Department positioned an aircraft carrier off the coast, said Raymond Mey, a former FBI agent and deputy on-scene commander at the time. The Pentagon has said it will place two warships in the Black Sea during the Sochi Games, in case it needs to evacuate Americans.
Putin faces a “daunting task,” said Mey, who first helped plan security at the Olympics, in Atlanta in 1996.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Maryland might owe federal government millions for health care exchange
- Fraternity’s racist chant among its traditions, University of Oklahoma finds
- National briefs
- Excessive use of solitary found for juveniles in Baltimore jail
- Gun used by agent who helped jail Capone headed to museum
- Report: Prepare to drill for oil in Arctic
- Global warming is slowing down the circulation of the oceans — with potentially dire consequences
- 30 new species of flies found in L.A. experiment
- Sen. Reid follows same old script for Democrats as he endorses Schumer as successor
- GOP budget proposal guts federal spending, health care
- Clinton wiped private email server ‘clean’