Icy relations between United States and Russia haven’t warmed enough to ensure a safe Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, federal lawmakers said Sunday.
The former Cold War rivals are sparring over the best way to swap intelligence — or at least how much to share — less than two weeks before the festivities begin.
“The fact is that these are going to be very much threatened Olympics,” more so than previous games, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on counterterrorism, told ABC’s “This Week.”
He said he cannot give American athletes a “100 percent guarantee” that the 17-day event will be secure, and other lawmakers have said they wouldn’t want their families to attend the games.
Tensions over the competition in Sochi, a Black Sea resort town west of the restive North Caucasus region, have been exacerbated in recent months by December bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd and taped threats to the games by local Muslim extremists.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russian governments have engaged in finger-pointing over their counterterrorism efforts, even as both nations say they want to secure the games in the spirit of Olympic cooperation.
“We’ve offered, I think, to be more helpful than they’ll allow us to be,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, told NBC’s “Today Show.” “And part of that is they probably don’t want to share all the threat information they have with us because of the distrust between our two intelligence agencies.”
One point of contention is whether or not the U.S. should share its secretive “jamming” technology that can disrupt signals that set off improvised explosive devices, or “IEDs,” which were common during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. and Russia have performed a diplomatic tango for years, but the current climate has been clouded by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s decision to seek refuge in Moscow after leaking a trove of secret data about the government’s surveillance programs.
An April bombing at the Boston Marathon’s finish line didn’t help, either, after it became clear that the perpetrators — two brothers influenced by radical Islam — had roots in the Dagestan region of Russia.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak, rejected the idea that Sochi is in a fundamentally unsafe region.
“There is no war zone in Russia … wherever you are, you might become a target of a terrorist,” Mr. Kislyak told CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“The environment, the past history, the frequency of attacks in Sochi, all of that mean that, no matter how we frame this, it is a much higher threat environment than any Olympics than we’ve had in the past ever,” Michael Leiter, former director of the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center, told NBC.
But Mr. Kislyak said Russian authorities are more than capable, downplaying the threat to Sochi and reported tensions with the U.S.
“You need to remember it’s Olympic Games that are being held in Russia and we have pretty solid capabilities to deal with it on our own,” he said. “We certainly rely on a lot of cooperation with the others, including the United States, and I’m rather comfortable about the quality of this cooperation.”
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