Sochi So Secure? The "Big Brother" Olympics Starting

Sport in winter



The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled to start tomorrow in Sochi, and the theme of this Olmypiad so far appears to be terrorism. 57 percent of Americans, for example, are convinced there will be a terrorist attack during the Olympics, according to a CNN poll. And when their government is warning them about the threat of toothpaste headed to Sochi, why wouldn't they? It's not just the U.S. government stoking fears. Russia is worried about the prospect of a terrorist attack too. Two suicide bombings in Volgograd in December killed 34 people. Two regions over from Sochi, Volgograd's 1,000 kilometers away, or as far as Cincinnati from New York. Last month, Russia arrested two suspects in the bombings, which it identified as members of a terrorist group named after Buinaksk, a city in Dagestan, the Caucasian region where the alleged Boston marathon bombers moved to in Russia before emigrating to the U.S.  The Buinaksk arrests followed a claim of responsibility for the Volgograd bombing via video by Caucasian Islamist militants calling themselves  the "Vilayat Dagestan," who promised more "presents" for tourists in Sochi.

In an article called "Sterilizing Sochi for the 'Big Brother' Games," Haaretz reports:

About 25,000 police officers, 30,000 soldiers and 8,000 special forces and members of the FSB security service, successors to Putin's old outfit, the KGB, are guarding the games. Many of the security personnel come from the old Cossack units and seem lost in the urban surroundings with their fur shapka hats and riding breeches, dismounted.

The security operation is a combination of low-tech—flooding the area with thousands of police, some not even trained to use the new hand-held metal-detectors they have been given and who make do with just a perfunctory glance into the car trunks, without checking any of the objects inside—and high-tech.

At the new Sochi Airport, electronic warfare aircraft are standing on the tarmac, reconaissance drones hover above and anyone who uses a smartphone or switches on a computer in the city discovers strange messages and unsolicited offers to download software.

The threats issued by the Caucasus Emirate, the Islamist terror organization which orchestrated a series of bloody suicide attacks throughout Russia in recent years, are keeping the thousands of police and soldiers in the streets, at the roadblocks and in the hotel lobbies, but most security experts in Sochi do not believe the attack will fall there or in the three Olympic villages.

"This is the safest city in Russia, even before the Olympics," says a former senior city police officer, now a security consultant. "Putin has one of his homes here, as do other senior officials. Heads of state are hosted here, including Netanyahu. The Caucasians will try and ruin the fun by attacking somewhere else, they can choose any target in Russia."

Haaretz's report starts with a story about the Lenin statue in town being covered up. Russia also set up protest restrictions in Sochi, running from this January through March 21, five days after the end of the Paralympics. Any planned protest is supposed to be approved by the FSB, the police, and the local government.

Though the media in Sochi now are focused on complaining about lousy conditions on site and the possible shitstorm to come, journalists working in Sochi will face restrictions, and digital surveillance, too:

Obstruction by Russian authorities and journalists' self-censorship in a repressive climate have restricted news coverage of sensitive issues related to the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in a report…

The report, entitled "Media suffer winter chill in coverage of Sochi Olympics," examines how both local and international journalists have been harassed and prevented from reporting on topics such as the exploitation of migrant workers, environmental destruction, forced evictions, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. The report also explores how Russian state-controlled media have ignored these issues or even published propaganda smearing the victims of human rights abuses and the activists who defend them.

"Russian authorities have cracked down on journalists, rights defenders, and civil activists in a way not seen since the break-up of the Soviet Union," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "The International Olympic Committee as the Games' organizers must engage with Russian authorities to ensure that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are unobstructed in Sochi both during and after the Games."

In the report's recommendations CPJ calls on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure that host countries that fail to reach international standards for press freedom and freedom of expression suffer repercussions; on the Russian government to repeal laws that chill freedom of the press; on corporate sponsors of the Games to insist that the IOC speak out on media freedom violations; and on journalists covering the Games to report violations of press freedom.

Russia, for its part, has called for a "global ceasefire" for the Olympic games, which were long ago disconnected from the ideal of peace attached to their ancient predecessors. It also tried to counteract negative press by releasing photos of their female Olympic athletes in lingerie heterosexualist propaganda.

Related: Check out four shameful moments in Olympic history