Terror Threat

01.24.14

Olympic ‘Black Widow’ Warning Caught U.S. Off-Guard

A Russian police bulletin seeking a female terrorist near the Sochi Games came as news to U.S. security officials, as Moscow continues to leave Washington out of the loop.

When Russian state police this week issued a “be on the lookout” advisory, or BOLO, for an alleged “black widow” terrorist ahead of the Sochi Olympics, it came as a surprise to many in the press. It was also news to U.S. diplomatic security, despite a series of high-level meetings between Washington and Moscow to coordinate security for the Winter Games.

Speaking to reporters Friday, a senior Obama administration official acknowledged that U.S. diplomatic security learned of the warning about Ruzanna “Salima” Ibragimova when the media did.

“We have been aware for some time that is a type of attack that has been used before,” the official told reporters. “I don’t think it surprised us. The specifics of the Russians putting out a BOLO—we got that the same time the press got it.”

The acknowledgement goes to the heart of a disagreement in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Republicans like House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul have complained that the Russians are not sharing enough information on threats with the United States.

A senior administration official said the Russians have not shared everything, though there was extensive coordination at high levels between the two governments on counterterrorism.

The FBI’s legal attache in Moscow between 2011 and 2012 told the Washington Post that the Russians were suspicious of U.S. efforts to help provide counterterrorism assistance in Sochi. Foreign Policy reported last month the U.S. Olympic Committee was taking no special precautions for the Games.

A senior administration official acknowledged Friday that the Russians have not shared everything, but also said there was extensive coordination at high levels between the two governments on counterterrorism. “We always wish our partners would share more,” this official said. “But the U.S. has many sources of information about how we view the credibility of these threats.”

Among those sources of information, this official told reporters, was cooperation among “the five eyes,” which refers to the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. These five countries share sensitive signal intelligence, such as phone intercepts collected by the National Security Agency.