Terrorism a concern for Sochi Winter Olympics

Recent bombings put law enforcement on alert

(SCRIPPS) - Safety concerns for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics have heightened following fatal bombings at a railway station and on a bus in Volgograd, Russia, that killed more than 30 people.

Though the bombings occurred in Volgograd,  400 miles to the northeast of Sochi, the suicide bombers targeted public transportation areas, which are historically the chief means of getting around during the Olympics in other countries. Public anxiety is high regarding attending the games, and according to Erase Enterprises President Kevin Mellott, a personal protection officer, private investigator, and member of the U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Overseas Security Advisory Council, that's just what the terrorists are trying to do.

"The chief motivation of a terrorist is to scare," Mellott said. "Terrorism only works when it intimidates us."

Terrorist organizations aim to cripple economies by scaring people away from spending money, from using means of public transportation, and that causes economies to plummet. Historically,  targets are places where large groups gather, and the Olympics provide a perfect example of this.

"Terrorists are likely trying to prevent people from coming to Russia for the Olympics. They are trying to hurt the economy of their host country by scaring people away, " Mellott said. "Groups are ramping up now because they've got that national spotlight."

As of Monday afternoon, two successful suicide bomb missions had been carried out in the past couple of days without organization penetration. No one has claimed responsibility for either bombing, but they came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened attacks against civilian targets in Russia.

Russia is still trying to figure out who is involved, and it will involve a lot of intelligence-gathering.

Though certain levels of monitoring have  been an ideological issue in the U.S., Russia is more unregulated. The best way to stop terrorist acts, Mellott said, is by identifying them before they start with high-grade intelligence, such as monitoring phone calls.

The Sochi Winter Olympics provide a really big challenge, and Russia will work with the International Olympic Committee to ensure as best they can the perimeter of the games. One way they may go about it, Mellott suggests, is by bringing in as many dogs as they can, and pushing the security perimeter back away from the facilities.

"A whole lot of technology, and a whole lot of bomb-sniffing dogs" will likely be a part of security for the Olympics, Mellott said. By minimizing the potential of a large crowd impact, the motivation for the bad guys is minimized. The IOC issued a statement Monday expressing condolences to the Russian people and confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure games in Sochi.

Though such basic security measures as scanners and metal detectors will likely also be used, these precautionary measures can create a security threat by themselves. For example, with most people using public transportation and many people carrying backpacks, as they don't have a car to stash their stuff in as they might in the U.S., checking all of those bags could create a choke point, with people backed up outside the security checkpoint, providing an opportunity for a terrorist, Mellott said.

Common features such as vending machines and garbage cans are two places where people may try to hide things such as bombs, and they are likely to be ubiquitous at the Sochi games and hard to regulate.  Another point to consider is that women can more easily conceal devices, and are also less likely  to be searched.

One problem that Mellott thinks could and should be addressed to stop terrorism before it starts is a lack of public education.

"Public education on this is pretty slim: security isn't taught," Mellott said. "At some point, we need to talk about 'What do we need to look out for in a crowd?' 'When do we start to teach our kids this?'"

Mellott suggests picking a grade level, such as freshman or sophomore year of high school, and educating youth about what to look for in a crowd. By doing so, he suggests that we would increase our national security level.

If people know what they see when they see it (regarding suspicious behavior), they can report it to a police or security official and potentially save lives.

"We have to pick a point to start training people about what is unusual and what to report. Educate our population, and you expand intelligence. The population can be a great intelligence-gathering asset if they know what to look for."

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