A Different Take on Sochi Security via Photosynth

    Security guards patrol the perimeter of the Olympic Park prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 1, 2014. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    Media reports preceding the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next week carry a foreboding tone in general, but accounts from two local photographers on assignment there bear witness to level-headed security at Sochi’s airport and elsewhere.

    Imagine you’re an athlete, even a fan, headed to partake in this year’s Olympic celebration, only to be confused and daunted by the hyperbole and news out of Sochi.

    In an article in Forbes, for example, the author all but recommends Israeli mercenary security gooks assist at the games.  AP and Yahoo report suicide bombers as the biggest threat to these games. Meanwhile, and a bit ironically, the only one with a level head on the subject of Sochi seems to be American President Barack Obama. The latest word from the White House, quoting from Dan Roberts’ article in The Guardian: 

    “President Barack Obama has thrown his support behind Russian security preparations for the Sochi Winter Olympics, disagreeing with several U.S. congressmen who have cautioned families against attending.”

    Sochi is one of the most lavish and expensive spectacles of sport ever organized, one that promises to be monumental in many ways. But it is also one which may have fallen victim to the worst king of mud-slinging campaigns. What’s so horrendous about this, besides the 143.5 million insulted Russians who’ve contributed to welcoming the world, is that the rest of us sport and Olympic fans stand to suffer a bit of indignity, bloody noses as it were, if all the hyperbole and politics are errant.

    What if Vladmir Putin has secured the games, what if that iron Russian fist is a reality?

    As one proof, let me relate reports from two of our affiliates in Sochi who detail a security force not mired in some ritual state of paranoia. Their credible accounts over the past two weeks show security officials at Adler-Sochi International Airport acting with diligence, politeness, and calm. This revelation is clear not only according to photojournalists Nina Zotini and Pasha Kovalenko, but also based on my experience communicating with Russian officials there on our own news accord. 

    Sochi Safety, Photosynth, and Practical Examples

    Several weeks ago, our media company began experimenting with Microsoft’s Photosynth 3-D technology for the purposes of revealing hospitality and travel experiences for consumers in advance of travel. The technology generates interactive 3-D images from digital photographs. 

    I contacted Bing’s chief, Stefan Weitz, to ask for cooperation in helping several photographers to learn and apply these technologies, the first being renowned French photographer and teacher Serge Ramelli. Weitz, and those we connected with at Microsoft, were imminently helpful in applying this new technology, and the natural course suggested a “preview” for Olympians and fans landing at Sochi.

    Note here, Photosynth is not video, not flash, and not simply stitched panorama, but a far more interactive and useful technology.

    As it turned out, this technical capability became a sensitive matter for Russian security once the so-called “Black Widow” suicide bomber inferences arose. And this is where our contact at Sochi Adler, PR Manager Alexandra Anpilogova, regrettably requested we not use the interior Photosynth imagery. Without explaining here in full, basically the concern is the “wrong” people might be able to use the up-close scrutiny of, for instance, a Photosynth walk through the airport to an advantage.

    The reader should note I said she “requested” we not use the technology. You see we have all the images, and even the exterior Photosynth (as seen below), proving Pasha and Nina shot on the premises.

    The truth for me and these photographers who are Sochi locals, at least, is a far cry from what most reports reflect. I even went so far as to question Nina about allegations Russian security was rounding up people, whispers of “gulags,” and other whimsical Western press stories of horror. As you can see in many of the images I have supplied from the pair, citizens in Sochi seem anything but horrified; business goes forward as usual, albeit with guarded caution.

    Photosynth image: 

     

    Together Is the Way to Go

    Who should the USA athletes, ready to snowboard to glory, believe? Is the German bobsled team safe? The fact is, no major Olympic or other monumental sports event is 100 percent secure. No such contest ever has been, for that matter. If we learned anything about vulnerability, certainly Munich in 1972 taught us. If not Munich, if not Germany, then certainly the Boston Marathon taught us.

    In conclusion, neither Munich nor Boston attracted media seemingly so intent on predictions of something bad happening. No sporting event in my 58 years on Earth has ever been cast with such appalling negativity as Sochi. I have to end here by saying, if I were Russian, this would be a soul-wrenching spectacle of unsportsmanlike conduct from some. As to the safety of these games?

    Perhaps justifiably, I’ll defer to my President.

     

    Phil Butler is an editor, author, and tech consultant for emerging startup companies. 



    • Richard M

      Three hundred and fifty million is a significant overstating of the Russian population. That even exceeds the population of erstwhile USSR.

      The photo technology is impressive. Still it requires a well trained security team to act on the knowledge gleaned from the photos.

      The recent fuster cluck in Washington of chasing and gunning down a frightened tourist from Connecticut proves that technology is not foolproof.

      One idiot Keystone Kop even crashed his car into a concrete wall at high speed.

      Interesting that the former USSR makes their photo data available to view. While the country that is allegedly the leader of the “Free World”, has never released a single photograph of the execution of Miriam Carey, nor of the offense she allegedly committed at the White House, that justified gunning down an unarmed woman, and firing a fusillade of shots into a car carrying an infant. At least in the minds of the Keystone Kops.

      • philbutler

        Ahh Richard. Point well taken on the population. Please attribute that to me “old guy” geographic memory. I will change it to reflect the census data. I was thinking of all the people of Russian heritage etc. As for keystone cops, those guys are literally everywhere. Here in Germany one police station barely even connects to another.

        These young Sochi professionals, all I’ve run across actually, are talented and kind, and show no outward sign whatever of being the “oppressed” citizens of some regime. Putin is discussed openly and freely, and so forth. Not unlike America, people there have their jokes and pokes at the politicians, it is very much a cosmopolitan place like any US city of similar makeup.

        As for Photosynth, I did express the point that a good detailed search of the web could produce the same “security biased” data. However, I did not want to argue any point where human lives might be at risk. That said, nobody seemed freaked out or overly crazed over suicide bombers. I leave that to my American friends on Facebook, some of who believe Azerbaijan TV over Pravda or the New York Times Go figure.


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