USOC Receives Email About Sochi Security Threat

1:24 PM, Jan 22, 2014   |    comments
The Bolshoy Ice Dome in the Coastal Cluster on January 20, 2014 in Alder, Russia. The region will host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics which start on February 6th, 2014. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
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Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Olympic Committee and several other countries have received emails regarding security threats at the Sochi Winter Games, further raising concerns about safety.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement Wednesday that the message has been forwarded to the authorities.

"The safety and security of Team USA is our top priority. As is always the case, we are working with the U.S. Department of State, the local organizers and the relevant law enforcement agencies in an effort to ensure that our delegation and other Americans traveling to Sochi are safe," Blackmun said in the statement.

NBC News reported Wednesday that the emails were threats, and that Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia also received emails.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams, however, told USA Today Sports that the email was not a threat.

He said that the email was sent by an individual, expressing "his view of security in the region." Adams added that the email had "no credibility as far as we can see. It was not from a terrorist group."

Experts on counterterrorism and Russian policy have said more new potential threats, and perhaps some hoaxes, will likely surface in the coming days. Terrorist groups might try to "enhance or increase the sense of insecurity around the Games," said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasia Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In Sochi, Rep. Michael McCaul says Russia has deployed 100,000 security personnel, including special forces and the military. McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, was in Sochi this week and was interviewed on CNN on Wednesday.

"I do believe this ring of steel is effectively in place," McCaul said of the Olympic security plan. "The problem is how many of these 'black widows', if you will, came into the area before the ring of steel came up. And we also know that one of these 'black widows' actually was able to penetrate this ring and enter the Sochi area."

Security concerns have been raised following two bombings last month in Volgograd that killed 34 people.

Despite the increased concerns and discussion about security, U.S. athletes have said they are not worried about their personal safety or their families.

"My family never hesitated about going," American luger Erin Hamlin said Tuesday. "Even with things heating up a little in that general area, they're not concerned at all. They've now traveled quite a few places to watch me race.They're excited to see a new country and see something different. They're obviously well aware of the concerns they should have, but they're fine with it."

Added ice dancer Evan Bates on Wednesday: "This is the most special time in our lives as athletes, and we want nothing but the most positive things to be coming our way. Not that we're ignoring the reality of the real world. But we're so focused on our performance and our training, our preparation, and our families will be traveling with us. And it's really a special moment for them as well. ... We have trust in the Olympic organizing committee and the Russian government.

"I mean it would be energy wasted to lose sleep over things like that."

Bence Szabo, secretary general of the Hungarian Olympic committee, told the sports daily Nemzeti Sport on Wednesday that the message also urged the Hungarian delegation to stay away from the Winter Games, which run from Feb. 7-23.

Committee President Zsolt Borkai told the state news wire MTI that other countries' Olympic committees had also received similar messages and that the IOC, Sochi organizers and Hungarian security forces had been informed.

The IOC repeated its stance that it "takes security very seriously."

"(We will) pass on any credible information to the relevant security services," the IOC said in a statement. "However, in this case it seems like the email sent to the Hungarian Olympic Committee contains no threat and appears to be a random message from a member of the public."

A spokeswoman for the Switzerland's Olympic committee said similar threats were "normal" so close to the Winter Games and that athletes and officials would base their travel plans on the assessment of security and diplomatic officials.

"This is kind of an everyday mail. This is normal before every Olympics," Martina Gasner told the AP by telephone. "We work with the federal offices for police and foreign relations."

"If they say you can go to Sochi, we will go, and if one day they will say it is too dangerous and we command you not to go then we will change our plans," she said.

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