What will it take to secure the Winter Olympics in Sochi?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World.
There have long been security concerns around the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This week, the reasons have become all too clear. A suicide bomber killed more than a dozen people aboard a bus this morning in the Russian city of Volgograd. An attack yesterday, at the city's main train station, killed at least 17 other people. Russian officials have assured the world that the games in Sochi will be perfectly safe.
Jim McGee is a security expert for the Soufan Group, and directed security for the FBI during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Jim McGee: Historically, the Olympics always seem to exist as a platform for terrorist organizations to make a statement at, because there's so much involved in terms of the viewer audience, the VIPs that are gonna be present during the event, etcetera etcetera. It just seems like it's always the favored event for them to try to make some ideological statement at.

Werman: Did you feel, at the Athens games, that as FBI director, you were able to kind of work through any tension between the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government?

McGee: I felt that we were successful in our efforts there, and you know, I contribute that to the excellent relationship that we had with the government of Greece and with our counterparts within the Hellenic national police in particular, to the point where were able to imbed our personnel with their counterparts, within the Hellenic security apparatus. So it worked out very, very well.

Werman: The US and Russia, though, are not exactly the best of friends. So how does the US gets its security completely as high as it wants it to be?

McGee: Well, see, that's always the challenge. It was not the same case in China. A lot of times we didn't even know what was going on as they did their build up to the Olympic Games there. The same thing in Russia. There's been a lot less coordination than we had the benefit of having in Athens in 2004.

Werman: When I think about security threats at the Olympics, I mean it's really hard not to think about the '72 Summer Games in Munich, when nine Israelis were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian extremists. How did that change the way officials thought about security at the Olympics?

McGee: That was a benchmark that everybody looks back to. A lot of things that are in place now were not in place, or did not exist, in Munich.

Werman: Like what?

McGee: A keen sense of awareness, and I mean they really didn't focus on putting together a threat assessment. And that is absolutely critical. Because how do you plan, how do you prepare, unless you have some sort of gauge in terms of what the threat is? That wasn't happening in 1972. They were just trying to host an Olympic Games, back then, that was gonna be better than the one they done previously during World War 2. And security took a back seat to that. Not anymore. In 1972, the Germans did not have their counter-terrorist team, the GSG9. It was not until after that Olympics when they saw the tragedy that occurred with the Black September and the Israeli team that they discovered, you know, "we have to have some sort of law enforcement capability to address the type of situation, in terms of a tactical response, hostage negotiations, and these types of capabilities." Same thing. Turned right around in 1984 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles. We certainly didn't want the same thing to happen, and they created the FBI's hostage rescue team, which still exists. So you can go back and look at all these different types of assets and you can contribute their development to the major event: the Olympic Games.

Werman: And I gather your own daughter kind of got a preview of Russian security, during World Athletic Games in Moscow, this past summer. What was her experience?

McGee: She felt that the World Games in Moscow were more of a testament for what was coming in Sochi. And I asked her about some of the security apparatus that was in place. She said that she felt safe, but it's not the job of an elite athlete to be worrying about security. They're worrying about competing. And, you know, it's the little mundane things that you have to be worried about, and you've seen it here just recently with these two bombings. What did they hit? A train station and a bus. And it's the transportation sector that's always very, very vulnerable. So when I asked her, I said, "Did you alter your routes when you got on the bus each day, to leave your hotel and go to the venue?" No. "Did you have police escorts? Did you have any type of security leading you to the venue?" No, we didn't. And see, it's those small, mundane details that the terrorists look for. That's where they see the vulnerabilities.

Werman: Jim McGee, security expert with the Soufan Group, he was the FBI Security Director for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Jim, thanks very much.

McGee: Marco, thank you very much.