Despite “an uptick in threat reporting” ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Obama administration is not warning Americans against attending next month’s games, officials said on Friday, sounding determined not to stoke growing alarm over security in Sochi.
“We’ve been very clear,” says State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “We’re not telling people not to go.” Earlier this month, the State Department issued a travel alert urging Americans in Sochi to be vigilant.
Nor did it seem—based on the cautious words of four other officials who spoke to reporters Friday—that the Obama administration wants to draw more attention to security threats and contingencies in advance of the games. One senior official noted that, although the Pentagon has generic evacuation plans to fetch Americans from danger zones around the world, “there is no Sochi Olympics evacuation plan on the shelf.”
The Obama officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said that they had learned about the potential presence of “black widow” suicide bombers within Sochi from media reports, and did not specify any other threats to the games. “Although,” one official added, “we have seen an increase in threat reporting, which is concerning to us.”
The officials declined to compare the threat level before Sochi to past Olympics events. One official did describe as “common sense” the advice given to U.S. athletes by their security coordinator not to wear their uniforms beyond the olympic venue, for fear of attracting malevolent attention.
Notably, the conference call was held late on a Friday afternoon—customary timing for release of information that officials hope will escape broad notice.
The Obama officials also spoke cautiously about their cooperation with Russian security authorities, who have historically been reluctant to share sensitive intelligence information with the U.S. government.
“Of course we always hope our partners will share more information with us and we’re always asking for more information,” said one official—who later adding that the comment was not intended to suggest a lack of cooperation by Moscow.
U.S. government workers are already in Sochi to provide information and support to the estimated 10,000 Americans expected to attend the games, which open on February 7.