TODAY   |  January 25, 2014

How worried should we be about Sochi terror threats?

People visiting or competing at the Sochi Olympics have been told they should be conscious of where they wear U.S. clothing and logos, just one of the many warnings about the Games. TODAY’s Lester Holt interviews Rep. Adam Schiff and NBC’s counterterrorism analyst Michael Leiter

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the u.s. state department is issuing a warning for all u.s. citizens traveling overseas to sochi , russia , for the winter olympics , to stay as attentive as possible while in russia at all times. meantime, billions of colladollars are being spent to make the winter games as safe as possible. it's a job that becomes increasingly more difficult as new threats continue to emerge. nbc's richard engel has the latest now from sochi . richard, good morning.

>> reporter: lester , security concerns have overshadowed the build-up to these games in a way that didn't happen before torino or vancouver, and the question is why. a lot of it comes down to the choice of having the games here in sochi , so close to the north caucasus , where russia 's engaged in an active counterinsurgency war fighting islamic extremists . and what's happening in dagestan , the most violent of the north caucasus , according to human rights groups, is that in the build-up to these games , some people, dozens of young men, are simply disappearing. their families say they go out, they go to work, and their sons are simply not coming home . they're being snatched, they claim, by the security services , some of them never seen again. the officials in dagestan we have spoken to deny that they are conducting any illegal abductions in the run-up to the games , but it is all creating a climate of suspicion, a climate of anger, and the concern is that anger and fear in dagestan could spill over and impact the games here in sochi .

>> all right, richard engel in sochi , thanks. representative adam ship is a member of the house intelligence committee and nbc news counterterrorism analyst michael leiter served as director of the national counterterrorism center both presidents bush and obama. gentlemen, good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> thanks for coming on.

>> good morning.

>> representative shipp, we've heard so much about this 1,500-mile so-called ring of steel that officials have put around the games in sochi . is it impenetrable?

>> no, it isn't, and there's nothing the russians can do to make it completely secure, but they certainly seem to be moving heaven and earth to do the best they can. the only shortcoming i would say is they could use more international cooperation . we've offered, i think, to be more helpful than they'll allow us to be, and part of that is they probably don't want to share all the threat information they have with us because of the distrust between our two intelligence agencies .

>> yeah, and i want to get to that in a moment, but michael, let me ask you about something the state department said during a briefing yesterday. they said it's not unusual for a major event like this to face threats. is that entirely accurate?

>> well, lester , it's certainly true that previous olympics and other large international gatherings, there is always an uptick in threat reporting, but it's really a bit misleading to say this is like all of those. the environment, the past history, the frequency of attacks in sochi , all of that mean that no matter how we frame this, it is a much higher threat environment than any olympics we've had in the past, ever.

>> representative schiff, i want to turn back to you. let's talk more about the russian/u.s. relationship and the sharing of intelligence and other technical assets. some of the discussion has assumed that the russians don't have the full capability. they are a super power , and the u.s. clearly has its own intelligence capabilities. how does the u.s. make an offer without seeming arrogant here?

>> well, it's hard, frankly, because even offers in the best faith are going to be greeted with a lot of suspicion by russia . we saw in the fallout of the boston bombing a lot of finger-pointing about who should have given more information to the other. and of course, the whole asylum for snowden hasn't helped relations between our two intelligence communities. at the time, there's a lot that we could do to assist, if they are willing to accept that assistance. i'm not all that sanguine about it, but we have to keep trying. it would be an unmitigated disaster if something were to happen at the games .

>> you've obviously had some background briefings and all this. would you send your kids to compete or your family to watch?

>> i would, and i've got several athletes from my district who will be going. you know, i think the risks are certainly there, but the risks are manageable. and when put in perspective, probably the most dangerous part about going to the olympic games will be the drive to sochi , and it won't be because of terrorism, it will be because of the usual threats in traffic.

>> and i need to ask michael, the u.s. olympic committee recommends that the athletes not wearing olympic clothing outside the venue areas. my understanding, i'm told now, is any terror threat has been more generic and not aimed at americans. has something changed here? do you think that's good advice?

>> i think it's fine advice. i think it's pretty generic advice for americans when they're traveling. don't call attention to themselves. in many ways, i believe that the terrorists in this region actually would prefer to target russians than they would westerners. and in that sense, i actually think the venues and the areas in and around sochi are much, much safer, not just because of the ring of steel, but because the terrorists don't really want to hit the west, they want to embarrass them.

>> i think we all want to get to a point where we can just enjoy the games and the competition and not worry about these sorts of things, but it is the reality. and representative adam schiff , michael leiter , thanks for being part of the discussion this morning. good to have you both.

>> thanks, lester .