UPDATE, 11:19 AM: “The safety and security of our employees and guests has always been our top priority,” a spokesman for NBC Olympics said in a statement issued to the media. “We are taking every precaution to ensure their safety, including working with numerous domestic and international government security agencies on an ongoing basis.”
PREVIOUS, 10 AM: Will Jimmy Fallon‘s debut as NBC‘s new 11:35 PM funnyman — carefully orchestrated to take advantage of the network’s Sochi Winter Games ratings harvest — turn into a made-for-TV event out of step with what may be shaping up as one of the most dangerous Olympics in recent history? NBC has not said anything publicly as to whether it has any plans to beef up security after two bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. Authorities suspect the bombings may be the work of a Chechen separatist group that has pledged to violently disrupt the Winter Games. The two bombings, which left at least 31 dead and more than 60 wounded, came less than six weeks before the competitions in Sochi, and have left some questioning whether terrorist violence will supersede athletic rivalry as the big story of these Olympics.
Jay Leno, who is being replaced by Fallon as host of Tonight to coincide with the Games, will take the desk for the last time on February 6; the Games begin February 7 and run though February 24. Fallon is scheduled to debut as new host of Tonight on February 17, when Games viewing levels on NBC should be high.
In the most recent blast, an explosion hit a trolley bus during the Monday morning rush hour in the Volgograd, which is about 400 miles northeast of Sochi. That came one day after a bombing at the city’s main train station. The two attacks come several months after the leader of a Chechen separatist group promised to attack the Games, calling them “satanic,” and adding, in a video that, “They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea.”
The two most recent bombings follow a blast last Friday, in which a car bomb killed three people in the Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 170 miles east of Sochi.
“What does Russian bombing mean for [Olympics] security worries?” NBC News wondered in a report following the two most recent bombings, adding “security officials around the world are concerned about terrorist attacks at the Olympic Games.” In its report, NBC News cited its counter-terrorism analyst Michael Leiter. “Since these Games were first awarded to Russia several years back, people were worried because of the long-standing conflicts,” Leiter said. “This type of mass transit is what officials are most concerned with.”
But Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov said Monday there was no need to take any extra steps to secure Sochi in the wake of the Volgograd bombings, as “everything necessary already has been done,” NBC News also reported.
Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would increase security at Russia’s railway stations and airports, according to press reports. Even before the bombings, security plans called for the resort town of Sochi to be locked down starting January 7, with only officially registered vehicles allowed in the town. Visitors to the Games will have to show a special pass to gain access to the region when the competition begins.
“Rarely do you actually have a terrorist group come out and say, ‘We’re going to try and disrupt these Games,’ ” CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend chimed in Monday on that cable news network. “When al Qaeda-related affinity groups make these sort of statements, you’ve got to take them at their word.” The targeting of transportation is “not lost on Olympic committee organizers and security officials,” added Townsend, who coordinated with Greek officials before the Athens Games in 2004. Athletes are “most vulnerable” when being transported between the Olympic Village and competition sites, she said.