Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday said the United States, if needed, could “extract” Americans attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But senior administration officials said such planning was normal for that type of high-profile event.
“If we need to extract our citizens we’ll have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference Friday, which set off alarm bells over U.S. confidence in Russia’s preparedness for the Olympic games.
In a background briefing with reporters later Friday, however, senior administration officials downplayed the remarks.
"There’s no Sochi Olympics evacuation plan on the shelf that we’re ready to pull off,” said one senior administration official.
The officials said such contingency blueprints have been discussed in the buildup to recent Olympic competitions.
However, the Obama administration has hardly issued glowing praise of Russia’s security readiness for the Olympics.
The White House has noted an “uptick” of terror threats in Russia. And on Friday, American athletes participating in Sochi were warned not to wear Team USA gear outside the Olympic grounds.
“It reflects just good common sense if in fact there are threats of terrorism,” explained another senior administration official.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is spending an unprecedented amount of money on security for the Olympics, including the movement of an additional 30,000 troops to the region.
The U.S. has also deployed two Navy ships to the Black Sea to respond to potential security concerns.
Ultimately, Russia though is responsible for the brunt of security in Sochi.
“We’re relying on the Russian government for security for the most part,” a senior administration official said, adding that the U.S was acting in a “liaison” capacity.