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Thursday
Jan302014

Sochi's Powerful Security Discreetly Camouflaged

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images(SOCHI, Russia) -- At first glance, it looks like another mound of sticks and leaves on the hillside. But a flicker of movement betrays it true identity: a camouflaged army tent guarding the highway from Sochi to the mountains.

Once you spot one, the others are easier to find. They dot the forest every few hundred yards along the new $8.7 billion highway connecting the stadiums along the coast and the Olympic skiing and sledding venues in the mountains.

It's just one of several layers of hidden security deployed to guard the Winter Olympics against terrorism.

Missile batteries poke out from behind camouflage nets in the hills above the Olympic Park. Soldiers stand guard inside tents masked with fake leaves and branches in the mountains. Navy speedboats patrol the coast. Plainclothes police officers mingle among the crowd. Closed circuit security cameras are everywhere. An electronic surveillance program monitors all cell phone and Internet activity.

Russian security officials have promised a "ring of steel" to safeguard the Sochi Winter Olympics. Putin has ordered tens of thousands of extra troops and police to help secure the Olympics. Judging by the number of times ABC News was asked to stop filming or asked to show identification, it is clear that Russian authorities are taking security very seriously.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos this month that security in Sochi would be tight, but not "in your face." It appears that in this he has succeeded.

In downtown Sochi, an hour away from the Olympic stadiums, dozens of police guarded what will be the official Olympic fan zone. But there is more security there than meets the eye. ABC News was asked to stop filming there by a pair of plainclothes officers who flashed their badges, identifying themselves as officers of the Federal Security Service, a successor to the Soviet KGB.

In the nearby harbor, a pair of discrete Navy speed boats bob next to a large Coast Guard ship. Near the city of Adler, where the games will actually take place, ABC News observed armed Navy speed boats patrolling the coastline. Another Navy ship, called the Seliger, was anchored farther out in the Black Sea. The ship was commissioned just over a year ago as a research vessel and reports at the time described its ability to detect objects underwater.

Entering the Olympic Park is an extremely controlled process. Visitors are only allowed in with a valid ticket or Olympic pass. They'll pass through several layers of security, involving X-ray machines, bag checks, and likely a thorough pat down. A tethered surveillance blimp hovers overhead. All vehicles entering the park are searched.

But Russian authorities have far more firepower waiting in the wings.

Hidden in the hills above the Olympic zone, under an olive drab sheet, is a small military base. Radar systems and what appear to be vehicle-mounted air defense systems are visible sticking out over the walls.

The outer band in the so-called "ring of steel, a few hours away from Sochi, is designed to guard any threat coming into the region. The main checkpoint is just outside the town of Magri, where dozens of police with sniffer dogs stop all vehicles. Drivers have their papers checked and most vehicles were pulled aside for inspection. A pair of tethered blimps kept watch overhead. ABC News was also asked to stop filming here by officials who raced out from the checkpoint in a police car and escorted us back to the police station for brief questioning.

All around Sochi and the surrounding area, a network of security cameras keep unblinking watch over seemingly every square inch. Most of those cameras feed into a central control center in Sochi, where staff keep vigilant watch of dozens of monitors. The Olympic Park is home to even more cameras, which feed into a separate control center.

Despite all this, the average fan will likely only interact with the police while entering an official Olympic venue.

But make no mistake. These Olympics will take place on lockdown.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio