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The terrorist threat for the upcoming Sochi games is higher than any other games since I started tracking terrorist threats to the Olympics. It’s almost certain there will be an attack attempted.

The attack could take place either inside of the cordon, where it’s already known that there are unaccounted black widows; or outside of the cordon on some of the other major cities outside Sochi itself.

RMS estimates terrorism risk based on attacks as well as plots. There has been a lot of activity on both the terrorism side and the counter-terrorism side prior to the games. The kind of analysis we do highlights the dependence of the attack on the number of people involved.

What’s concerning about Sochi is the certain style employed by Chechen separatists – namely the black widows. It’s known that several are unaccounted for in the Sochi area. Because they work on their own, it’s not possible to track them down based on their communication with other people. It’s very hard to stop an attack carried out by just one person.

It was President Putin’s decision to hold the games in Sochi, his favorite vacation destination, which makes it a bigger target for the Chechens who want to make a statement. Any attack on the games is a personal attack on the president. After the Volgograd bombings, he threatened to annihilate the terrorists responsible; he threw down the gauntlet and essentially invited a response. The Sochi Olympics are a huge honeypot target for the Chechen terrorists.

Although there were a number of threats to the London Olympic games, because of the work done by the MI5, there was no successful attack. These games are different due to the political climate and the proximity of Sochi to the Caucasus region. While the London Olympics had great attendance of world leaders, it’s likely that no Western leaders will be traveling to the Sochi games due to security concerns.

Putin obviously has confidence in his security services. There are more than a thousand security forces inside the ring of steel, but the threat is very high. The Olympics are a high value target, which is a real challenge for terrorists. But the terrorists are motivated.

Putin has made these games a much bigger target. The games should be politically neutral, but these are very much Putin’s games.

Everyone should be very vigilant. As a general principle, I believe people should live their lives as normal and not give into threat. Some advice for visitors: Get there as early as possible. Get inside the cordon and stay there until the end of the games. Threat to transportation will be at its highest right before and right after. If you get there a few days early, you likely won’t be exposed to the highest-level threat.

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Gordan Woo pic
Gordon Woo
Catastrophist, RMS

Gordon is a catastrophe-risk expert, with 30 years’ experience in catastrophe science, covering both natural and man-made hazards. Gordon is the chief architect of the RMS terrorism risk model, which he started work on a year after joining RMS in December 2000. For his thought leadership in terrorism risk modeling, he was named by Treasury & Risk magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in finance in 2004. He has since lectured on terrorism at the NATO Center of Excellence for the Defense against Terrorism, and testified before the U.S. Congress on terrorism-risk modeling.

As an acknowledged, international expert on catastrophes, Gordon is the author of two acclaimed books: “The Mathematics of Natural Catastrophes” (1999) and “Calculating Catastrophe” (2011). Dr. Woo graduated as the best mathematician of his year at Cambridge University and he completed his doctorate at MIT as a Kennedy Scholar and was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He also has an Master of Science in computer science from Cambridge University.

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