Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Terror, Surveillance and the Winter Olympics

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Another Olympics is around the corner, this time of the winter variety. The location is the Russian town of Sochi.  The object of this event, it would seem, is less medals than stifling security.  In other words, the time has come for another round of bashing and bullying, scented by a good deal of disingenuousness.

The problems are already been tallied for the coming games.  The overarching issue is safety, which, in the Olympic canon, usually means suspecting everybody and everything of targeting the spirit of a sacred sporting event.  Sport, notably of the Olympic character, is big business for the security state.  Suggesting that Sochi is an attractive target to begin with, the Russian authorities are wanting to make it even more inviting.  Hit us if you can, and we shall make everybody pay.

With last week’s suicide bombings in Volgograd, 400 miles northeast of Sochi, which killed 34 people and injured over a hundred, the security services are beginning to sing for their heavy supper.  “We will strongly and decisively continue the battle against terrorists until their total annihilation,” claimed President Vladimir Putin in his New Year’s Eve address.

The preparation for the Games has been extreme and extensive, employing a robotic and security army to target any threat against the athletes and visitors. It is one comprising a massive cyber surveillance system that shows why security officials love the Olympics.  Attempts to earn medals tend to be decrepit side shows of show ponies. The real business is taking place offstage.

A few points in this hysterical bonanza of protection are worth noting. More than 5,500 video cameras will be in operation as part of the “Safe Sochi” policy. Of those, 309 will be manned by the Russian intelligence services, the FSB.  The FSB has also had an outlay for their Plastun scout robots.  The devices are heavy with surveillance equipment: thermal imaging, cameras and devices that can detect a sniper’s scope (National Post, Jan 4).

Such a survey is only the start. More than 40,000 police will be on duty.  There will be drones, including the FSB’s Gorisont-Air S100, which is easily weaponised. Not to be outdone, the Interior Ministry has 421 Zala drones at its disposal.  With somewhat chilling language, Nikita Zakharov, the deputy director of Zala Aero, explained that, “The main thing is that you cannot see or hear a drone.”  There will be zones of population control – checking of people’s belongings, movements and credentials.  All visitors will need a Spectator Pass, which needs registering on the Sochi 2014 site.

There will be monitoring of spectators and athletes alike – the System of Operative-Investigative Measures system, or SORM, will (and at this, the US NSA must be sighing with envy) be able to track and monitor all electronic utterances. SORM is the bastard child of previous intelligence couplings – notably under the auspices of the Soviet-era KGB.  SORM-1 captures telephone and mobile phone telecommunications; SORM-2 intercepts Internet traffic; SORM-3 gathers information from all forms of communication and has a storage facility (World Policy Journal, Fall, 2013).

With a good deal of hypocrisy, US authorities have issued their own warnings about the potential for privacy violations, suggesting that what the Russians do is not something they would encourage.  The briefing in the “Travel Cyber Security Best Practices” reads, as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan claim in the World Policy Journal (Fall, 2013), like “briefing instructions for a Cold War-era spy.”  Among the bits of advice is travelling with “clean” electronic devices.  “Otherwise, essential devices should have all personal identifying information and sensitive files removed or ‘sanitised.’”

The directions get even more dramatic.  “Do not connect to local ISPs at cafes, coffee shops, hotels, airports, or other local venues.”  Passwords should be changed before and after the trip.  “Assume any electronic device you take can be exploited.”  The list of recommendations, it is interesting to note, might just as well be used by US citizens regarding the surveillance of their own communications by the security services.  But the Russians already know that.

The Russian state has gone further than its counterparts in granting seven investigative and security agencies the right to intercept and examine phone calls and emails.  It is true that FSB officers are required by law to obtain a court order to eavesdrop, but the grant is not one that will be questioned.  It is incumbent on those officers to show what they find to their superiors.

The Russian surveillance and security state has bloomed under the watchful Putin.  The mendacious International Olympic Committee is satisfied with the potential of what it might be able to do, and has accepted the astonishing line from Moscow that the authorities will “guarantee freedom of speech despite the high security during the Games.”  Seeing as the IOC and freedom of speech tend to be extra-terrestrial to each other, the statement is without merit.  Various Olympic authorities have issued guidelines banning athletes from using social media.

The enormous, near paramilitary response to the Sochi Games merely affirms the fact that nothing in terms of public entertainment or recreation can be entirely excluded from the security gaze.  The narrative of sport here is the narrative of violence, existing or contingent.  What will be interesting to note is whether this heavy-handed state formula succeeds in repelling the very threats it claims is protecting both spectator and athlete alike.  The power of incompetence may be more telling than the depravity of malice.  The Russian forces may have nothing to protect themselves from that.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]