WASHINGTON — Airlines flying into Russia in advance of the Winter Olympic Games are being advised that terrorist operatives could fabricate explosives from toothpaste tubes, a federal law enforcement official said Wednesday.
The official, who has been briefed on the matter but is not authorized to comment publicly, said the warning was not based on a specific threat and it was still unclear whether launching such an attack was viable.
Information about the possible threat was picked up in a stream of intelligence that authorities have been analyzing in advance of the Sochi Games, which have been threatened by Islamist extremists.
The official said the decision to alert the airlines was made out of an abundance of caution and is likely to be the first of many such bulletins issued related to possible threats in Russia.
The topic was addressed in Sochi Wednesday morning where Russian officials said they are waiting on more information, working with the Americans and viewing this as an indication that their security plan is working.
"We have no information about this issue," Sochi organizing committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko told a small group of reporters following a regularly scheduled press briefing. "I do believe Sochi is completely safe.
"The state authorities are in charge with providing the highest level of security. I know the colleagues from the United States are in permanent contact with our security services and they have no concerns."
During the press conference, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said the security procedures are working because this threat has become known. He also said that the "level of threat in Sochi is no worse than in New York, Washington or Boston."
Later Thursday, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said he was made aware of the threat but would not elaborate: "I don't want talk about specific responses to specific threats because I think it actually impairs our security plan to do that. But I will say that we were made aware of it, and I can't really say anything beyond that."
"The safety and security of our athletes and whole delegation is always the primary concern. As we always do we work closely with our state department and our state department is in very close contact with the local authorities. We react to situations as they arise but we also have a lot of planning exercises in advance and these games are no different than any other Games in that respect."
Security preparations for the Sochi Games have been among the most extensive in the history of the Olympics because of the persistent threat posed by extremists just outside the perimeter of the host city.
A security force of more than 40,000 has been dispatched to create what Russian authorities have described as a "ring of steel'' around the city and venues that stretch from the Black Sea Coast to the Caucasus Mountains to the east.
Preparations were stepped up in late December after twin suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd, nearly 500 miles from Sochi, left more than 30 dead.
As recently as Tuesday, President Obama was briefed on the U.S. government's involvement in the security effort and directed American authorities to "work closely closely with the Russian Government and...act on any new information that might affect the security of the Games.''
Contributing: Kelly Whiteside in Sochi, Russia.