Lori Hickey

In one of the latest threats to emerge ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is warning airlines with direct flights to Russia that toothpaste tubes may be used by extremists to smuggle explosives onto planes. While the agency focuses on domestic threats, the warning specified the threat is directed at Russian-bound flights rather than those entering the U.S. The announcement has had no effect on existing travel measures for Sochi as the Russian government already banned all gels, pastes and liquids from its airports last month. The ban will last through the Games as well as the Paralympics. Additionally, the threat has not changed any guidelines for American travelers heading to Sochi. DHS explained the warning, stating that it “regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.” Russian officials have yet to comment on the threat but maintain that Sochi is highly secure.

The recent suicide bombings in Volgograd, Russia raised fears for the security situation surrounding the Olympics. The most prominent threats emanate from Islamist militants in the Caucasus region, including those from Dagestan and Chechnya. Analysts are also looking into any plausible threats from al Qaeda-linked groups looking to capitalize on the Winter Games. The U.S. has two warships in the Black Sea to offer assistance in case of a security emergency during the Olympics, the U.S.S. Mount Whitney, a command ship equipped with helicopters and communication gear, and the U.S.S. Taylor, a frigate.

MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:

      • A similar threat emerged ahead of the 2012 London Olympics in which al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) tasked a Norwegian recruit with attacking a U.S. passenger jet. The plot did not come to fruition, but it was allegedly planned to coincide with the Games. Global, high-profile events offer extremists the opportunity to garner significant attention.
      • Details surrounding the current threat remain unclear, particularly whether the explosives would be meant to target planes or if the toothpaste tubes would be used to bring explosives into Russia for an attack inside the country. 
      • Due to the constantly changing security measures prompted by new threats, terrorists also continue to look for ways to evade airport security procedures. 
      • Richard Reid attempted to detonate explosives that were hidden in his shoes in December 2001, provoking a new security measure in which passengers take off their shoes during security screening.
      • Containers filled with over 3.4 ounces of liquids were banned in carry-ons following the thwarted 2006 al Qaeda plot to detonate liquid explosives aboard transatlantic aircraft. 
      • The failed underwear bomb plot on Christmas Day in 2009 led to the introduction of full body scanners in airport screening areas. 
      • In 2010, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) sought to target planes in a completely new way by packing printer toner cartridges with explosives. Though the explosive devices were intercepted, AQAP later explained the plot was meant to cause detrimental economic impacts by forcing the U.S. to spend millions in new security measures.
MSA Security's Research and Intelligence Analysis Group provides real-time intelligence on events and worldwide threats as they evolve.
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(Image credit: cbc.ca)

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