By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- With security concerns dominating the news of the upcoming Olympics in Russia, local law enforcement officials said the outlook would be markedly different if Boston hosted the summer games in 2024.
"We are probably better suited than any other place in the country to work in this coordinated fashion," retired Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis told a special commission studying the feasibility of hosting the international games Tuesday.
Davis noted the joint federal and state fusion centers and the state's history hosting sports championships and the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a national special security event, where - as would be the case with the Olympics - the U.S. Secret Service managed the security.
The lead-up to games in Sochi, Russia has been marked by civil rights concerns over a Russian law limiting expressions of homosexuality, and security worries heightened by three suicide bombings targeting public transportation in Volgograd, which is in the same region, over the fall and winter.
Sitting 200 miles from Chechnya and 250 miles from Dagestan, according to the State Department - areas where the alleged Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev reportedly have familial ties - Sochi is "the worst possible example" for comparisons to Boston, Davis told reporters.
"Having a low level war occurring there over the last 20 years makes that unique, and I can't see a scenario in the United States that would replicate that situation, however our intelligence systems need to be working very closely together. The threat that comes out of the caucuses really needs to be factored into anything that we do here in the United States," said Davis, who said a close working relationship between the FBI and Russia's security force is important.
Russian President Vladmir Putin has reportedly said he committed 40,000 police and special services officers to protect the games, which begin Feb. 7 and last through Feb. 23.
"The numbers have been increasing at Olympic Games over time, so we expect there will be thousands of security people here, but we're not fighting a war 600 miles away," Davis said.
Following the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three spectators last April, the security for the 26.2-mile event will be heightened, said Davis, who said his successor, Commissioner William Evans, and state officials are "focused" on that issue.
"There's going to be increases in surveillance. There's going to be increases in numbers; there's going to be increases in cameras; there's going to be a much different security posture next year than there was last year. We felt we were prepared for the threat, and we were prepared for the threat that we knew about. It was the unknown that caught us, and that's really what you have to worry about," Davis said.
According to CBS News, Russian authorities were hunting for a "white widow," the wife of a deceased militant, who is suspected of seeking to launch a suicide bombing around Sochi.
Asked if he would feel safe going to the 2014 Olympics, Davis said he would go in defiance of any threat, but would not want his family to go to the games.
"I would personally go because I feel that we shouldn't change our activities because of threats of terrorists, but to be honest with you, I wouldn't let my family go. I would advise my family against going there because of the unique situation they have right now," said Davis said. "I've never seen the military put in place like this, with ships being sent to the area to evacuate people."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was in Charlestown on Tuesday taking part in a student financial aid day, fielded questions about the possibility of the United States withdrawing from the winter games for security reasons.
"I think we have legitimate security concerns. Let's see what happens over the next few days about whether or not any of those concerns can be alleviated," Warren said, adding, "I don't know what's going to happen. Right now, it's still an unfolding situation and we don't have full information about what's happening and whether they have adequate security in place."
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, a member of the special commission, reported that his analysis shows the state would have adequate police, federal officers and private security to protect the games.
"We do believe we have adequate forces," Tompkins said. He said he believes the state would be able to train Olympic security forces adequately while maintaining other operations, and said it was too early to determine whether potential venues would be able to be adequately secured.
Noting the bombing at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta occurred outside a security perimeter, in a "soft zone," Tompkins said Olympic security would need to account for cities and towns outside the games.
Those will be the areas of primary concern in Sochi, as well, Davis said.
"I think the athletes will be all right. It's the soft targets, and outside of that ring of steel that I'm concerned about," Davis said. Davis said it is "almost impossible" to stop someone who is working alone and is intent on killing people.
In the special commission's last meeting, A Better City President Rick Dimino suggested Beacon Park Yard, a former rail yard in Allston, has the potential for major development, and could be home to a new commuter rail station.
"The land area here is adequate enough to build a whole new city," Dimino said, conjuring a new station similar in scope to North and South stations. He said, "Imagine if the Olympics could leverage a new west station."
The freight facility was recently transferred to Westborough, and the old freight yard is owned by Harvard University, according to a Massachusetts Department of Transportation study. MassDOT has considered the Beacon Yard as a potential layover facility for commuter rail trains.
Transportation, housing, hotels and tourism are other areas the Special Commission to Study the Feasibility of Hosting the Summer Olympics in the Commonwealth in 2024 is investigating.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Executive Director Betsy Wall said last year leisure travelers spent $17.7 billion, generating $1.1 billion in taxes and 126,500 jobs in the tourism sector. Of the 22.8 million travelers in Massachusetts, 2.1 million were international, said Wall, who said most of the visitors are from New England, including inter-state travelers from Massachusetts. She said, "New York is our gravy train, for the highest spending domestic visitors."
Special Commission Chairman John Fish, of Suffolk Construction, said the commission will meet two more times, on Feb. 11 to discuss a budgetary overview and "legacy" opportunities, and Feb. 25 when the commission will provide feedback on a draft report.
Matt Murphy contributed reporting.