The company behind the Oscar-nominated film Dallas Buyers Clubsued 31 people in a federal district court in Texas this month for allegedly using the legal file-sharing service BitTorrent to download the movie illegally. The lawsuit is one of thousands that have been brought by companies against BitTorrent users in recent years, in an effort to crack down on Americans who are stealing movies, music, porn, books, and software. But it could have a tough time. Recently, several federal judges have ruled that key information—computer internet protocol (IP) addresses—used by film studios and others to target supposed thefts is insufficient proof to proceed with the lawsuits. And copyright experts say that even though companies are still winning lots of settlements, these firms are going after fewer plaintiffs at once than they were a few years ago. This suggests that their ability to pursue large piracy cases has been hampered.
"I think the trend is towards judges looking at [piracy] cases more carefully than they used to, requiring more upfront investigation," says Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "There may always be some judges who will simply rubber-stamp these cases…but there are fewer of those judges than before."
When companies bring copyright lawsuits, they often don't know the identities of the alleged pirates. (This was true in the Dallas Buyers Club case.) Instead, they use IP addresses, unique numbers assigned to each device on an internet network, to track the computers that have been used for illegal downloading. Then they ask a judge to issue a subpoena to the internet service providers, so they can obtain the name of the person associated with that IP address. If the judge approves this request, plaintiffs can make additional demands, such as seeking a copy of the person's hard drive. Armed with this information, the plaintiff then typically forces the defendants to settle. The average settlement ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, says Jeffrey Antonelli, a Chicago attorney who has represented numerous people accused of illegal BitTorrent use.
But this strategy isn't perfect. "IP addresses are continuing to be less and less of an indicator of the identity of a particular person or computer on the net," says R. Polk Wagner, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in intellectual-property law. The name connected to an IP address usually identifies who is the paying the internet bill, not who is doing the downloading. Ten years ago, most people didn't use wireless routers at home, but now, more than 60 percent of people do. And all the computers using a single wireless router have the same IP address. So if your tech-savvy neighbor is piggybacking off your wireless internet—and illegally downloading Mean Girls—you could take the heat. And Stoltz, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, points out that when people receive settlement letters, they are often scared into paying up—"even when they didn't download illegally, or had valid defenses."
Here's an example of how imprecise IP addresses can be in pinpointing a specific computer: In 2012, law enforcement tried to catch a person making online threats to local police in Indiana by tracing the person's IP address to a specific house. After a SWAT team broke down the door and tossed a couple of flashbangs into the entryway, they realized they'd gotten the wrong place. The home had an open wifi router. The threats were coming from down the street.
Recently, some judges have become more wary about granting subpoenas to companies who come to them with only IP addresses. Last month, a judge in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle dismissed a case brought by the studio that produced Elf-Man—a direct-to-video Christmas movie—against 152 anonymous defendants. According to the judge, "simply identifying the account holder associated with an IP address tells us very little about who actually downloaded Elf-Man." In May 2013, a federal judge in California came down hard and issued a $81,320 fine against copyright holders that were "porno trolling" or going after people accused of downloading porn illegally. According to the judge, the plaintiff, Ingenuity 13 LLC, relied too heavily on IP addresses and did not do an adequate enough investigation to bring claims. And in May 2012, a federal district judge in New York reached a similar conclusion about IP addresses, as did a federal judge in Illinois the year before. Wagner notes, "Judges are increasingly realizing that [IP addresses] don't have a high degree of reliability, and they're not an accurate representation of who has control of the computer."
Antonelli, the Chicago attorney, takes a different position. "Sure, we've seen a sprinkling of courts that have taken this position," he says, "but in my opinion, it's not enough, especially when you look at just how many lawsuits are being filed. I don't see a trend yet." He notes, however, that studios are no longer going after tens of thousands of plaintiffs at once, like they were doing from 2011 to late 2012. In 2011, for example, the producers for Hurt Lockersued almost 25,000 BitTorrent users—and almost all the claims were voluntarily dismissed by the studio, because it was taking too long to track down all of the defendants via their IP addresses."That's certainly changed. Typically we see no more than 100 defendants…I think that was a smart move on the plaintiffs. Courts were losing patience," says Antonelli. Wanger adds, "It's possible companies think that if they sue fewer people who are doing more significant activities, that's a more defensible public relations approach." (The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America didn't provide comment to Mother Jones as to whether studios are now going after fewer plaintiffs.)
For now, whether or not the Dallas Buyers Club producers will be able to successfully subpoena the alleged downloaders remains to be seen. (An attorney representing the producers did not return multiple requests for comment.) "It really depends on the judge assigned to the case," says Stoltz. He says movies studios should be able to bring claims that are plausible, based on the facts they gather before suing.
The founder of the website Die Troll Die, who goes by the name John Doe, says that he started his website to fight alleged copyright trolls after being sued for copyright infringement—something he claims he didn't do. He says he's happy to see that the tide is turning against companies using IP addresses to bring lawsuits. He told Mother Jones via email, "I can say first-hand that being threatened with a lawsuit because someone else used your internet connection is a horrible experience."
On Friday, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Missoula County Attorney's Office in Montana, alleging that it has found "substantial evidence" that prosecutors there systematically discriminate against female sexual-assault victims. According to the DOJ, the office considers sexual-assault cases involving adult women a low priority, often treats these victims with disrespect—quoting religious passages to one woman who reported assault, in a way that made her feel judged—and declines to prosecute some cases in which it has confessions or eyewitnesses, including a case in which Missoula police obtained incriminating statements from a man who admitted to having sexual intercourse with a mentally ill woman, who had asked him to stop.
"We uncovered evidence of a disturbing pattern of deficiencies in the handling of these cases by the County Attorney's Office, a pattern that not only denies victims meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk," wrote Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement on Friday.
In a statement emailed to Mother Jones on Saturday, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg wrote, "I think that everything the DOJ is saying about our office is false. These people are as unethical as any I have ever seen. They obviously have a political agenda they want to push and the truth does not matter to them." Van Valkenburg also told The Missoulian, "There was no effort whatsoever by the DOJ to in any way inform me before they made this thing public." (A Justice Department spokeswoman told Mother Jones on Saturday that it has reached out to the Missoula County Attorney's Office "more than a half-dozen times over the past 21 months in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution." She added, "We remain confident in the integrity of our findings.")
Attorney General Eric Holder launched its federal investigation into how Missoula authorities handle sexual-assault cases in the spring of 2012. Last year, following the investigation, the Justice Department recommended that the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department beef up resources to combat rape, and entered into agreements with both offices. In December 2013, the DOJ recommended that the Missoula County Attorney's Office enter a similar agreement. But since the Justice Department never issued a findings report for the prosecutor's office—like it did with the university and the police—Van Valkenburg said there wasn't sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to justify the demands. He also claimed that DOJ was overstepping its legal authority. This month, he declared that he was taking legal action against the DOJ, rather than make changes required by the settlement. Now, the Justice Department has released those findings, noting that the prosecutor's office failed to provide documents, information, or access to staff during the investigation.
A prosecutor allegedly told the mother of a five-year-old girl who'd been sexually assaulted by an adolescent that "boys will be boys."
According to the Justice Department's letter, in one instance, a deputy county attorney in Missoula allegedly quoted religious passages to a woman who'd reported sexual assault "in a way that the victim interpreted to mean that the Deputy County Attorney was judging her negatively for have made the report." In another case, the Justice Department spoke to a woman whose daughter was sexually assaulted, at the age of five, by an adolescent boy, who was sentenced to two years of community service for the crime. A prosecutor handling the case allegedly told the mother that "boys will be boys." Another sexual-assault victim discussing prosecution options was allegedly told by a deputy county attorney, "All you want is revenge."
The Justice Department reported that some women claimed they declined to pursue prosecution because of negative reports they'd heard about the prosecutor's office. A young woman who was gang-raped as a student at the University of Montana allegedly told the DOJ that her friend decided not to report her own rape to the police or prosecutors after hearing about her experience dealing with the prosecutor's office. In another case, a clinical psychologist who had counseled numerous sexual-assault survivors in Missoula allegedly told the Justice Department that after she, herself, was sexually assaulted, she was reluctant to have her case prosecuted, given the "horrendous" stories she'd heard.
In one case, a man confessed to raping a woman while she was unconscious. The prosecutor didn't bring charges, citing "insufficient evidence."
The Justice Department also determined that, after a review of police files, "in some cases…Missoula Police officers had developed substantial evidence to support prosecution, but [the office] without documented explanation, declined to charge the case." According to the DOJ, in one case, police obtained a confession from a man who admitted to raping a woman while she was unconscious, and recommended that he be charged with rape and car theft. The prosecutor's office allegedly declined to bring charges, citing "insufficient evidence." In another case, a man admitted to having sex with a mentally ill woman, and said that at some point she asked him to stop and said that he was hurting her—but he wasn't sure when he'd stopped. The police also recommended rape charges in that case, and the prosecutor declined to bring charges, according to the Justice Department. The DOJ determined that the prosecutor's office declined to prosecute "nearly every case" involving nonstranger assaults on adult women who had a mental or physical disability, or who were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
The Justice Department noted that the prosecutor's office has made some recent improvements to the office, including requiring deputy county attorneys to attend sexual-assault prosecution training sessions. But the DOJ said that the office still needs to make the "commonsense" improvements it recommended in December. Van Valkenburg told The Missoulian over the weekend that he plans to proceed with his lawsuit and "DOJ should respond to our lawsuit, rather than try to poison the well with this stuff.” He also told Mother Jones the following in January: "The Missoula Police Department and our office have done a very good job of handling sexual-assault allegations regardless of what national and local news accounts may indicate."
Last year up to 110 million Target customers had their sensitive personal information stolen over the holidays in one of the largest data thefts in retail history. After stolen credit cards began to flood black market websites, Target offered all of its US customers one year of free daily credit monitoring to help them fend off identity theft. But credit experts and Consumer Reports say that this service is misleading victimized customers by providing incomplete monitoring—and advertising comprehensive reports for a fee.
"It's a misconception to think that you're getting full credit monitoring," says John Mackey, founder of Master Credit Solutions, which helps people rebuild their credit. "I live three or four miles from the Target headquarters in Minneapolis, and I want to go over there and tell them that it's deception that they're committing. The reports won't tell you squat."
Under federal law, Americans who are victims of identity theft are allowed to get a free credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Target's program, "ProtectMyID," promises to go further than that, providing several resources, including giving customers free credit monitoring for one year. Credit monitoring works by notifying consumers after fraudulent activity occurs—for example, if a new credit card has been opened in the victim's name—so that it can be quickly stopped. It doesn't alert customers if someone is actually using a stolen credit card, since that information doesn't show up on a credit report. "Free credit monitoring is like someone running up to you after a car accident and telling you, 'You just got in a car accident!'" John Ulzheimer, a credit expert at CreditSesame.com, told MarketWatch.
But according to Consumer Reports, Target's credit monitoring service isn't even as good as that—since it only checks one bureau, Experian, and this practice doesn't provide a full picture of a person's credit. When you buy a house, for example, lenders usually compare credit reports from all three major bureaus, since they get their information from different sources, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Target claims, "You do not need to purchase a credit score or additional reports from Equifax and TransUnion to receive the benefits of credit monitoring." And Greg Young, a spokesman for Experian, tells Mother Jones, "Single-bureau monitoring provides substantial awareness into whether or not new lines of credit have been opened, or attempted, in the individual’s name."
But experts disagree. Checking only one bureau means that "the service could miss fraudulent activity," Consumer Reports notes. Mackey adds that this could be a "huge, huge problem for consumers," because they might think that's everything is fine with their credit and apply for a loan when, in fact, their credit has been compromised by fraud.
The second problem with Target's program, according to credit experts, is that it appears to upsell comprehensive monitoring to victimized Target customers. After signing up for ProtectMyID, Experian offers customers three-bureau monitoring in addition to multiple credit reports and scores if they pay extra—as much as $75, according to Consumer Reports. Doug Pollack, chief marketing officer at ID Experts, a data breach prevention service, says that it's common practice for Experian to charge extra for supplemental services and encourage customers to enroll in the service after a year, for a fee. He believes, however, that "what Target is doing, providing a credit monitoring solution, is appropriate as far as we at ID Experts can see." Young, the Experian spokesman, adds that he doesn't believe Target and his company are upselling. "Ads offering associated products are part of the user experience," he says.
Target did not respond to comment for this article, but Consumer Reports says a Target spokeswoman "claimed not to have details about Target's decision-making process" and "reiteratedProtectMyIDs basic benefits." Consumer Reports concluded that Target's deal is "lemons" for Target customers and "lemonade" for Experian. "The retailing giant has fumbled a second time by providing second-rate credit-monitoring services," says the report.
Update, February 25, 2014: This week, Montana Catholics plan to deliver a petition calling on George Leo Thomas, the Bishop of Helena, to rehire the fired school teacher, Shaela Evenson. The petition, which was organized by the national group, Faithful America, has over 20,000 signatures.
Last month, a Catholic school district in Montana fired middle-school teacher Shaela Evenson for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Evenson, who taught literature and physical education at Butte Central Catholic Schools for nearly 10 years, was dismissed after the school district received an anonymous letter revealing her pregnancy. Despite the fact that Evenson's principal has called her an "excellent teacher," officials at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena, which oversees Evenson's school, are standing by their decision. They contend that sex outside of marriage violates the morality clause in the teaching contract Evenson signed. On Thursday, Patrick Haggarty, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, told the Montana Standard, "It's not easy being a Christian or a Catholic in today's world. Our faith asks us to do things that right now are not popular with society." The diocese, the school, and Evenson's attorneys did not reply to requests for comment.
Firing unwed teachers who become pregnant is not uncommon for private religious schools. It's not necessarily illegal, either. Although federal law generally forbids discrimination against pregnant women, the Supreme Court has ruled that religious employers are protected from certain discrimination lawsuits brought by employees who serve in ministerial roles. For example, they have the right give preference to job candidates who share their religion, if the purpose of the job is primarily religious.
Religious organizations are permitted to require employees to sign a religious contract, but they must enforce these contracts equally for men and women. In a recent legal analysis, Lauren E. Fisher, a professor of law at Washington and Lee University, pointed out that this is inherently impossible. "The majority of sins do not present themselves with hairy palms, growing noses, crossed eyes, or anything else that would make one's sins obvious—except for the one instance in which there is glaring evidence of moral transgression: pregnancy outside of marriage," Fischer wrote.
Evenson has hired an attorney, Brian Butler, who says she will file a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Here are the cases of 10 other teachers who say they were fired for becoming pregnant.
1. San Diego Christian College in El Cajon, California, February 2013
Teri James said she was fired from her position as a financial-aid specialist after becoming pregnant with her fiancé's child, in violation of a community covenant forbidding "sexually immoral behavior" she had signed while an employee. In a twist of the knife, James said that after she was fired, college officials offered a job to someone else they knew had violated the terms of the morality agreement—her husband.
James has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the college.
2. The Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas, April 2012
The Christian private school fired Cathy Samford, a middle-school science teacher and volleyball coach, when the 29-year-old told officials that she had become pregnant. The father was her fiancé. When fired, Samford offered to move up the date of the wedding. The school's headmaster refused the offer, telling news outlets, "It doesn't change that her behavior was out of wedlock."
3. St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, June 2011
Emily Herx claims that she was fired from her teaching job at the Fort Wayne Catholic school after she underwent in vitro fertilization. The pastor of the church, she says, told the married teacher she was a "grave, immoral sinner" and had risked causing the school a scandal if anyone found out about her treatment.
Herx argued that her firing was illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals with infertility issues. In January 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found that Herx's firing was illegal. She later sued the school.
4. Holy Family and St. Lawrence Catholic schools in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 2010
Christa Dias, an unmarried computer teacher, said she was fired by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati after she became pregnant through artificial insemination. Her employers claimed that artificial insemination violated her employment contract and Catholic teachings.
5. Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Florida, April 2009
Fourth-grade teacher Jarretta Hamilton was fired after she told the school she planned to take maternity leave. Hamilton had become pregnant three weeks prior to her wedding in February 2009, in violation of the school's "fornication" policy.
Hamilton received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC in 2010, but a federal district court concluded that Hamilton had not produced sufficient evidence of discrimination. In May 2012, a federal court ruled that Hamilton could proceed with her case.
6. St. Felix Catholic School in Wabasha, Minnesota, February 2008
Emily Prigge, a 23-year-old, unmarried fifth-grade teacher, says her principal asked her to resign after she revealed her pregnancy, as sex outside marriage violated the Catholic Christian Witness Statement that she had signed.
7. St. Rose of Lima in Queens, New York, October 2005
Michelle McCusker, a 26-year-old preschool teacher, was fired from the Catholic school for becoming pregnant outside wedlock. McCusker said that she was "devastated" because "this was my first teaching position and I was excited and looking forward to the school year with my young students." In this case, an anti-abortion group sided with McCusker and argued that her school's policy encouraged female employees to seek abortions.
In 2006, the EEOC ruled that the school had engaged in illegal pregnancy discrimination.
8. Village Seventh-Day Adventist Elementary School in Berrien Springs, Michigan, May 2005
After school officials learned that Christine John, a kindergarten teacher, was four months pregnant with her husband of two months, they placed her on administrative leave until her contract expired. A school spokesman told the Associated Press that John's contract allowed the school to terminate her immediately for engaging in premarital sex. The school was honoring her contract until the end of the school year, he said, "out of compassion."
9. Appleton Catholic Education System in Appleton, Wisconsin, September 2004
Kelly Romenesko, a French teacher at two Milwaukee-area Catholic schools, claimed she was fired after becoming pregnant through in vitro fertilization.
An investigator from the Equal Rights Division of Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development upheld Romenesko's termination in December 2005, saying she had not been fired for becoming pregnant but for undergoing the procedure itself. Romenesko's appeal reached the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled that teachers at religiously affiliated schools are not protected by state laws against workplace discrimination.
10. Covenant Classical School in Hoover, Alabama, December 2003
Tesana Lewis was hired as an assistant teacher at the school and fired four days later when school officials learned that she was pregnant and unwed. Lawyers for the school said Lewis would not assure the officials she would stop having sex.
In 2006, a US district judge ruled that the school's religious affiliation exempted it from federal pregnancy discrimination law.
Update 1, Friday, February 7, 12:45 PM EST: An airliner from the Ukraine was forced to make an emergency landing in Turkey due to a hijacking attempt, AFP reports. Turkish officials told CNN that a passenger, believed to be of Ukrainian nationality, "said that there was a bomb on board" and wanted the plane to land in Sochi. AFP says that he was "brandishing a detonator."
Update 2, Friday, February 7, 4:30 PM EST: The AFP reports that the man, born in 1969, was "apparently drunk" and only said that he was brandishing a detonator. According to Istanbul's governor, the man did not have a gun or explosives. Ukrainian security services reportedly said, "The man will answer for his hooligan behavior."
This week, Americans nervously descend upon Sochi, Russia, to cheer on their favorite athletes in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Members of the US team who have already arrived in the city say that with an estimated 100,000 security force members protecting the games, they feel safe. But US officials said on Tuesday that they are tracking "specific threats" to the games. And counterterrorism experts argue that the terrorism risk in Sochi is largely unprecedented, due to recent threats from active terrorist groups. They fear that attacks could take place outside of the secured perimeter surrounding the event sites, particularly on public transportation or at checkpoints. While the Daily Beast notes that terrorism coverage could overshadow the successes of US athletes—and give terrorists free publicity—experts say that it's warranted. "This is a very serious threat. It's not overblown," says Victor Asal, a terrorism expert at the University of Albany. He adds that if he knew people who were planning a trip to Sochi, he'd tell them, "Don't go." Without further ado, here's everything you need to know:
Who are these terrorists, and what do they want?
The main threat to the Olympic games is the Caucasus Emirate, a loose network of Islamist terrorist groups that is located between the Black and Caspian seas in Russia. The Caucasus Emirate, established in 2007, aims to establish Shariah law in the region, but it only has suspected ties with Al Qaeda. The terrorist network is a partly an outgrowth of the First and Second Chechen wars, conflicts that began when Russia invaded Chechnya. "The human rights abuses committed by the Russians in the invasion of Chechnya were really extraordinary, and the violence has come from these grievances," Asal says. Initially, the group's aims were nationalistic—secession from the Russian federation—but now, there is a growing jihadist component.
The group's self-appointed leader is Doku Umarov, nicknamed "Russia's bin Laden" (photo below). He's seen only rarely, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, recently claimed that Umarov is dead. (He's said this many times before, so terrorist experts aren't convinced.) As of this month, that report has not been confirmed by the Russian government or the US State Department. While the network's primary target is Russia, Umarov has also issued threats against the United States and Israel in the past, according to the US State Department.
When has the Caucasus Emirate carried out attacks before?
Terrorists affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate are believed to have carried out about two terrorist attacks per year since 2008, killing hundreds of civilians. Here are some of their more notable attacks:
June 2008: A Caucasus Emirate militia group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack that killed 14 and injured dozens in Vladikavkaz, less than 500 miles from Sochi.
October 2013: A woman associated with Islamic militants bombed a bus in Volgograd, about 600 miles from Sochi, killing at least six. (It has been suspected that she was associated with the Caucasus Emirate, but not confirmed.)
December 2013: A subgroup of the Caucasus Emirate claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a train station, also in Volgograd, killing at least 16. The group also claimed responsibility for bombing a trolley bus in the same city 24 hours later, killing 18. (On Wednesday, Russia state media reported that Russian police had killed a suspected mastermind of the December Volgograd attacks.)
Have the Caucasus Emirate explicitly said they want to target the Olympic games?
Yes. In July 2013, Umarov published a video urging rebels to "do their utmost to derail" the Olympics. He characterized the games as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." Late last month, a subgroup of the Caucasus Emirate posted a video (below) showing men they said were the bombers responsible for the December attack on Volgograd, and threatened to give Russia a "present" at the Olympics.
Who are the "Black Widows" I'm hearing about?
An alleged "black widow" suicide bomber Whitehotpix/ZUMA
"Black Widows" refers to women who have committed suicide attacks, reportedly to avenge spouses or family members killed by the Russian military. According to NPR, Russian police have been circulating fliers over the last few weeks, searching for suspected female terrorists—including a 22-year-old wife who police say was recently spotted in central Sochi. While women have successfully pulled off terrorist attacks associated with the Caucasus Emirate, some experts say the threat has been overstated, because just as many, if not more, men are committing attacks.
Can these terrorists really pull off an attack on the Olympic sites?
Counterterrorism experts say that it would be very difficult, given the security lockdown known as "the ring of steel"—an area about 60 miles long and 25 miles deep around the Olympic sites. Putin has militarized the areas surrounding the games, with 100,000 police and members of the armed forces on hand, including special-ops forces to guard the mountains outside of Sochi. Only vehicles that are registered in Sochi are being allowed through the city's checkpoint, and that's after they've been searched. Drones are being deployed to survey the sites from the air, and the government will be snooping on tourists' electronic devices. (On Tuesday, the Boston Globe reported that some of these security measures could be overstated, noting that a reporter's bag wasn't searched.)
What about outside of the ring of steel?
Experts say the risk is high. "The checkpoint has to stop somewhere, and if bombers get anywhere close to a checkpoint, it could have the same political effect in the media as getting into the Olympics themselves," says Aki Peritz, a senior policy adviser for Third Way and a former CIA counterterrorism analyst. He notes that transportation to and from Sochi is particularly vulnerable, considering the attacks on buses and roadways by the Caucasus Emirate in the past. Daniel Treisman, a Russian politics expert at the University of California-Los Angeles, agrees: "The network will seek to stage attacks in order to demonstrate their capabilities. It is possible [a subgroup] could succeed. But I think they are much more likely to succeed somewhere outside Sochi than inside the security area."
The State Department warns that while Americans aren't being targeted specifically in Russia, "there is a general risk of U.S. citizens becoming victims of indiscriminate terrorist attacks." The British government has been more explicit about the potential threat, putting out a map recommending that tourists avoid many areas outside of Sochi (bottom far left):
The United Kingdom's Sochi advisory map
What weapons might be used?
Counterterrorism experts say that suicide bombers are likely the biggest threat. "I think anyone who is going to be attacking the Olympics is going to have to assume that they're going to be dead. It's a suicide mission however you look at it," says Asal, from the University of Alabany. However, in 2012, Russian security forces claimed that they'd found a number of sophisticated arms that they believed were planning to be used in an attack on Sochi—including "grenades, portable surface-to-air missiles, explosives, rifles and other weapons," NPR reported. Gordon Hahn, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also toldForeign Policy to not rule out the possibility that regional terrorists have obtained chemical weapons from Syria.
How does this threat compare to those posed to Olympics in the past?
According to the New York Times, US officials haven't been this concerned about security at the Olympics since the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The paper notes however, that "the Greeks were far more receptive to help from American law enforcement and intelligence officials, who ultimately played a significant role in the security for the Games." Treisman, from UCLA, says the most recent case that is comparable would be the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, which occurred at a time when the terrorist Basque separatist organization ETA was still active. Peritz, from Third Way, jokes that "it would be safer if we had the Olympics in North Korea. At least they don’t have an active terrorist group blowing things up." (The most recent deadly terrorist attack on the Olympics was orchestrated by an American at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.)
What is the United States doing about all this? The United States has stationed two warships, which can launch helicopters into Sochi in case an evacuation is needed, in the nearby Black Sea. The United States is also stationing at least two dozen FBI agents in the area and may be sharing sophisticated counterbomb equipment with Russian authorities. US athletes have also been warned not to wear their uniforms outside of the secured perimeter. Several US congressmen, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) have expressed anger that Russia is not cooperating fully with US security efforts.
Is anyone actually staying home? Several US athletes have said they are asking their families to stay home from the Olympics because of security concerns, including speed skaterTucker Fredricks, Minnesota Wild ice hockey defenseman Ryan Suter, and Wild forward Zach Parise.
Who says it's safe?
Some US athletes who have arrived in Sochi already told ABC News on Monday that they feel safe there. ""We've had a lot of fun, and I don't anticipate us being in any more harm's way than going down the mountain in a bobsled at 85 miles per hour," said US bobsledder Dallas Robinson. And last month, President Obama confirmed that he felt the games were secure, noting that "the Russian authorities understand the stakes here." However, he will not be attending with the first family.