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Security Fears Jangle Olympic Nerves In Sochi


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. The Olympics are getting closer, less than two weeks away. The Russian host city of Sochi is busily preparing for the influx of athletes and the media and making sure adequate security measures are in place. Sochi is close to the Caucuses region, home to the long running Chechen insurgency.

Last weekend, the video on a Chechen extremist website made threats against the games. Russian security forces are now reportedly searching for possible suicide bombers, women known as the black widows, one of whom is rumored to be inside Sochi itself. For more on this we spoke to Andrei Soldatov. He's the editor in chief of the website Agentura.ru based in Moscow.

I began by asking him what security measures have been put in place.

ANDREI SOLDATOV: We're talking not only about boots on the ground and in which case this might be 100,000 troops, but also we are talking about surveillance technologies introduced in the area of Sochi to control everything and everybody in the area of the games.

LYDEN: So surveillance, what about classic Russian intelligence to tell the people on the ground that, you know, where the terrorists presumably are?

SOLDATOV: So we have the problem of lack of trust between different departments inside of intelligence community. Some people in Moscow might not trust their colleagues in some of North Caucasus, especially in Chechnya or Dagestan, and there are some problems of dissemination of information within different departments because the countris, they are large and the connections and the relations between different departments might be different.

LYDEN: Let me ask you, besides having some difficulty in terms of sharing intelligence between organizations within Russia, what about with other countries? How are the Russians working with the U.S.?

SOLDATOV: Again, here we have some problems, maybe caused by the fact that the general put in charge of providing security in Sochi, this general is not the head of the counterterrorism department, but he's the chief of the counterintelligence department. And the problem is that he's a very experienced general, but he's spent his entire career in hunting down foreign spies and he's had some problems and his people had some problems with trust in foreign colleagues, especially if they're talking about (unintelligible) of sharing of intelligence and sharing of information between different countries.

LYDEN: Like Washington, D.C. and the United States?

SOLDATOV: Exactly.

LYDEN: Is it fair to ask you, Mr. Soldatov, what you're expecting at the games?

SOLDATOV: Well, I think it's a very hard question. The problem is we are facing not only the threat caused by Doku Umarov himself or his group. The problem that they have now insurgency in almost all republics of the North Caucasus and they have a number of cells, small groups of people who are desperate (unintelligible) cannot remain just because of the Olympics. And the Olympics present such a great opportunity for all these small groups to try their hand to do something at the Olympics.

And I think it's a very dangerous situation and now I think the Russian Secret Services not face a very difficult challenge.

LYDEN: Thank you very much for speaking with us. That was Andrei Soldatov, the editor-in-chief of the website Agentura.ru. Thank you.

SOLDATOV: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.