Friday 7 February 2014

CBRN Threat Assessment For Sochi Winter Olympics

SecureBio's assessment on the CBRN threat to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Executive Summary: SecureBio assess the CBRN threat for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, 07 - 23 Feb 14, as SUBSTANTIAL (Attack is a strong possibility) with the prominent threats originating from hate groups, lone wolf actors and domestic terrorist groups, predominantly originating from the North-Caucasus. The CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) threat is considered significant enough to recommend the implementation of specific CBRN defensive measures, including basic CBRN awareness training and the development and introduction of Immediate Action (IA) Procedures. However, the threat is not perceived to be significant enough to warrant the carrying of protective equipment.

SecureBio recommend that all personnel attending the Games have an awareness and understanding of CBRN material, the threat and the development of robust CBRN contingency plans. It is SecureBio’s assessment that a Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD), small-scale chemical agent release or an attack against an individual/team utilising a white powder or an acid is the most likely form of CBRN attack. It is recommended that accompanying security advisors ensure that they have developed a suitable immediate action, decontamination and recovery plan.

SecureBio remain available for further advice, comment and training.

Introduction. Despite being hosted by a relatively stable state with advanced counter-terrorism detection, protection and response capabilities, the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi affords regional and domestic terrorist groups with an ideal platform to deliver a high profile attack, often referred to as a Spectacular. Russian Security Services have identified and named 17 domestic terrorist organisations operating inside Russia; many of these terrorist groups have publically stated their desire to obtain CBRN. As the Games approach, a number of these terrorist groups have publically stated their desire to deliver a Spectacular, one of which (Ansar al-Sunna) said that, unless Russia removes all military and security personnel from the Caucasus region they will resort to the use of Chemical Weapons.

Furthermore, the nature and profile of the Games makes them at risk from high profile terrorist organisation, seeking to deliver a Spectacular on the international stage:
  1. Live television, providing guaranteed broadcast of the attack.
  2. High profile and international event, delivering “the message” to a sizable audience.
  3. Programmed event, providing predictability and repeat events.
  4. Crowded places, likely to generate a high number of casualties and increased fear.
In response to the growing threat, Russian Security Forces have established a 1,500 mile “Ring of Steel” in an attempt to thwart any would be attackers however, reporting has indicated that several threat groups are already inside the Ring of Steel. The Ring of Steel has done little to calm international fears, with a series of recent events highlighting potential security weaknesses:
  1. In December 2013, the Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz) conducted two successful terrorist attacks in Stravpol and Volgograd.
  2. Jihadists, believed to be members of the Caucasus Emirate, have been sighted by security services in and around Sochi.
  3. A member of the “Black Widows” has been sighted in Sochi, security services have issued a photograph around the city.
  4. A Fatwa has been issued authorising the use of Suicide Attacks.
Regional. Historically Russia has had a poor track record in protecting and monitoring its CBRN material, including commercial products, weaponised stockpiles and high activity radiological sources used in the power sector, a complete list is at Annex A. These events, occurring over a number of years, are likely to have assisted and maybe even gifted Russian domestic terrorist groups the ability to develop Chemical, Biological or Radiological agents for use in improvised CBRN devices.

Of note, the head of the Russian Nuclear Agency publicly stated that a “Few Grams” of weapons grade nuclear material has gone missing “Here and there” over the years. And as recently as October 2013, a terrorist group were thwarted attempting to blow up a Chemical Weapons storage facility in Kirov; it is assessed as likely that main effort was proliferation of chemical weapons and not the destruction of the facility.

International. Russia has historically held a fractious relationship with its eastern neighbours, even generating close political alliance with failed or failing states. The most recent and prevalent of these is Syria, approximately 1,200km from Sochi. The on-going instability in this region, coupled with Russia’s public alignment to the Assad regime and the number of fractious groups operating inside Syria, the proliferation of Chemical Weapons from Syria must not be discounted and could pose a risk to the Games.


There are several organisations and individuals that pose a CBRN threat within Russia, these groups could be defined as recognised terrorist organisations, hate groups, professional assassinations and lone wolfs.

Terrorist Organisation. There are 17 recognised terrorist groups operating within Russia’s borders, many with close affiliation to Al Qaeda (AQ) and other Islamic extremist organisations. A number of these groups have declared their intent to acquire CBRN material, in order to further their cause. Historically, these organisations have only initiated attacks in retaliation for Russian activity in North Caucasus or to achieve a specific political goal eg. The removal of all Russian claim to the Caucasus region.

SecureBio assess the threat of a CBRN attack during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, by one of the 17 recognised terrorist groups to be SUBSTANTIAL. The threat from terrorist organisations is the most volatile; it is therefore recommended that particular attention be paid to open source reporting and news coverage in the build up to the Games.

Hate Groups. There are a number of “home-grown” highly radical hate groups who frequently use violence or the threat of violence to achieve their aim. Many of the hate groups are xenophobic, with particular motivation coming from racial differences; in 2006 Amnesty International published a report stating that violent racism was out of control:

Due to the Games being on a World Scale, SecureBio assess the threat of a CBRN attack from a hate group to be MODERATE. Hate crimes are estimated to have reduced year on year since the peak in 2008 but remain significantly higher than the UK or Western-Europe.

Lone Wolfs. The lone wolf threat (eg. Bolshoi acid attack) is the hardest to understand, predict and mitigate, however recently there has been a great deal of media exposure to Russia’s stance on homosexuality and its environmental policy and an opportune lone wolf may see the Games as a means to highlight these therefore:

SecureBio assess the lone wolf CBRN threat to be SUBSTANTIAL. The Olympic Games are very high profile and could provide an opportunity for this type of attack.

There are a number of CBRN agents widely available in Russia and of possible interest to terrorist organisations, hate groups and lone wolfs.

Chemical. Chemicals agents are often chosen as they are readily available and can have an immediately life changing effect on the target. Despite their availability most harmful chemicals are relatively easy to detect, difficult to transport and will effect a number of individuals in the area not just the intended target. It is assessed that a small scale chemical attack from a Toxic Industrial Chemical or from a Chemical Warfare Agent proliferated from a Chemical Weapons Storage facility in Russia or Syria.
Acids. Acids are readily available as kitchen cleaners or drain un-blockers, are easy to transport and relatively innocuous. However, to be effective individuals would need to be close to the target (whilst maintaining some stand-off) and have sufficient time to prep the bottle/container. Most acids can be rapidly neutralised with FAST ACT or have their effects mitigated by the rapid application of copious quantities of water and the removal of outer clothing.
Hydrogen Cyanide. Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN), a chemical warfare agent, is one of the easiest to manufacturer from mixing Potassium Cyanide (used in the jewellery industry) and an acid. HCN is highly toxic but disperses rapidly in the wind, it would therefore need to be released in a controlled environment.
Biological. Despite a sizeable Soviet biological programme there have been comparatively few biological attacks in Russia. Furthermore, most biological agents require an incubation period, pose a significant threat to the individual transporting the agent and can be relatively easily neutralised; which makes them unpopular as a terrorist threat agent. It is assessed as unlikely that a biological agent would be used during the Games however the risk from a Hoax White Powder exists.

SecureBio assess the Bio threat to be LOW but the threat from a hoax White Powder to be SUBSTANTIAL. Our Biological Immediate Action Service (BIAS) is a highly effective mitigation service for this type of threat and has been developed to be used by non-specialist users.

Radiological & Nuclear. Owing to the geographical size of the Russian Federation and the remote locations, compact nuclear power generators were readily installed across the country. These, poorly protected, generators contain a differing radiological sources but most commonly is Strontium 90, a strong Beta emitter. Radiological sources are therefore readily available across Russia but easy to detect. The most likely delivery methods are:
Gamma Shine. These are typically left in a public location, with the intent of irradiating nearby individuals. Gamma Shine devices are relatively easy to detect and require a prolonged period of exposure to be truly effective. Despite this, there are several historic examples of this type of device being used in Russia.
Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD). RDDs are IEDs designed to scatter radioactive material over a wide area, they are not a nuclear device. As a weapon the fear generated by an RDD (or potential RDD) is more significant than its actual effectiveness as a lethal weapon.
Contaminated Food Stuffs. Ingested radioactive material is the most harmful and hardest to detect, the most recent example of this is Alexander Litvinenko.
SecureBio assess the threat to be SUBSTANTIAL from a Radiation Dispersal Device or Contaminated Food Stuffs.


It is recommended that all staff working at the Olympic Games are made aware of the threat posed by CBRN material and have an appropriate contingency plan in place; the plan should focus on rapid decontamination action in the event of an acid attack but also include multiple evacuation routes, dependent on wind direction should other threat agents be used.

Currently, the threat is not perceived to be significant enough to warrant the carrying of protective equipment or the implementation of more aggressive and restrictive measures however management should be aware of the Action Plan.

"Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once - you will have to be lucky always." IRA, 1984.

SecureBio remain available for further advice, comment and training.

1 comment:

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