A warning about explosives in toothpaste tubes, just the latest among security worries at Sochi

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Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter, in for Marco Rubio and this is The World. Sure, the opening ceremonies are not until tomorrow, but the Sochi Winter Olympics are already underway. Mogul, slope-style, snowboarding, and team figure skating all starting today, so the athletes are finally involved, after all the talk about cost overrun and unfinished hotel rooms in Sochi. Security, though, is still a major concern. Al-Qaeda-linked militants based in the Caucasus region have threatened to attack the games. The latest US warnings to airlines flying into Russia is to watch out for explosives concealed in toothpaste tubes. But today, Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak, said his country can guarantee the safety of visitors as well as any country hosting a similar event.

Dmitry Kozak: [speaking Russian]

Translator: I would like to repeat, once again, that the level of security in the city of Sochi is not worse than in New York, London, Washington or Boston and today we have no reason to say that Sochi or Russia is in any more than any other place on the planet."

Schachter: Some visitors already in Sochi don't seem fazed by all the security concerns. American tourist Graham Watanabe was arriving at the train station in Krasnaya Polyana, the mountain hub for the games.

Graham Watanabe: I've traveled a lot and I know that sometimes the media can exaggerate, and so I just though, "I know a lot of people that are here for the Olympics and so that, there's plenty of people who can help me if I need anything. I just figured it's not an adventure without any adversity, so I might as well give it a shop.

Schachter: David Filipov is in Sochi for the Boston Globe. So, David, are we, the media, blowing things out of proportion, security-wise?

David Filipov: Well, there was nothing disproportionate about the threats that came from the Islamic terror group that said it was going to blow up the games like it blew up that station in Volgograd, right? It wasn't histrionic to report that these guys had made that threat. You know, there are terror threats all the time at major sporting events. The Boston Globe in Boston, we know that as well as anybody, right? But does that reflect on every second that you're in Sochi? No. I actually agree with the American tourist in the sense that you're going around downtown Sochi, you might never know, if not for the logos, that there is a big sporting event here anyway. People are relaxed. The police are nice. There are no guns or uniforms or checkpoints on the street. You'd never know that the Olympics was there, especially the Winter Olympics, because of all the palms.

Schachter: [laughs] Because of all the palm trees?

Filipov: Yeah.

Schachter: From what you see, can you see any kind of threat at all? We're hearing about security cordons and checks at train stations and things like that. Is any of it visible?

Filipov: It's increased, every day that I've been here. Today, for the first time, I saw special operations police in full uniform and battle gear standing guard down in the media center. When I first got here a few days ago, there was nothing. There were these police in plum-colored outfits that looked very unthreatening. The question was penetrating. When you penetrate the ring of steel, that suggests that there's this mighty, solid thing that nobody could get through and, in fact, at one of the train stations I was at, the ring of steel checkpoint was fine. They had a lot of scanners. They had a lot of these purple-colored troops who were very friendly but very thorough. Right next door was an ordinary room in the train station, right next door. I go through the scanner, a thing rings, he says, "Can I see that?" I say, "It's a computer." He says, "Fine. I trust you." That's the next door over.

Schachter: Presumably, you can so the Caucasus Mountains, home to so many Islamic militants. You've been around quite a bit. You've had experience in Afghanistan and elsewhere. What is your own security anxiety meter like?

Filipov: I don't want to sound cavalier. When you're a journalist on deadline, your anxiety meter is "Will I get this story?" [laughs] But more seriously, we're in the Caucuses. Yeah, I spent 10 years covering the war in Chechnya and you know a lot about these mountains. One is that they're not impassible. Having sneaked around there myself, you also know that these groups are never as big and as powerful and as able to strike as it seems because once or twice they pull it off and it's horrible and the consequences are horrible. But that doesn't mean they can recoil and strike. It's not like just because the Olympics are here, "Oh, great. Let's kill some Americans," and it happens.

Schachter: David Filipov is in Sochi for the Boston Globe. Thanks, as always, David.

Filipov: Thanks for having me.

-END-

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