In a particularly poorly considered bit of reassurance, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak rebutted reporters' depictions of incomplete or crumbling hotel rooms near the Olympic Games site in Sochi by saying that the problems were being exaggerated. How'd he know? Video surveillance of a shower. Oh.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the press conference on Thursday morning, in which Kozak, who's responsible for the preparations for the Games, insisted that everything was going smoothly. He told reporters that, of the 100,000 guests that had been accommodated, they'd only received 103 complaints. That the Games were happening at all was a victory, he insisted, and "As we say in Russia, victors don't get blamed."
All of which is fine, if worthy of some skepticism. Then he told explained his belief that Westerners wanted to make Russia look bad and were sharing manufactured images with precisely that aim. How'd he know?
"We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," he said. An aide then pulled a reporter away before Mr. Kozak could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms. "We're doing a tour of the media center," the aide said.
For what it's worth, none of the images of Sochi's problems that have gone viral have depicted water damage. But the aide's response in rapidly extracting Kozak was a good one — what's that about video surveillance in the showers?
People expected that surveillance would occur. NBC's Richard Engel made a splash when he reported having his electronic devices hacked shortly after arriving in the Russian city. The story wasn't quite as bad as it was made out to be; it was, according to researchers at Trend Micro who helped NBC with the report, set up an experiment making it as easy as possible for the hacking to occur — what's known as a "honey pot." Which it did, in short order.
That's a different animal than the implication that there exists video surveillance of showers. The best-case scenario is that Kozak was exaggerating or misrepresenting something. The next best scenario is that the shower was a public one of some sort, and the video surveillance was incidental as part of the Games' robust security presence.
The worst-case scenario — and the least generous interpretation possible — is that the Russian government is watching people shower and, presumably, watching everything else they do in their hotel rooms. Which would promise a whole new crop of embarrassing photos out of Sochi.
Update, 1:10 p.m.: Good news! A spokesman for Kozak now says "there is absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests," the Journal reports. ("Occupied by guests" seems to be doing a lot of work in that sentence, but what do we know.) He went on:
He said there was surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi's venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing. A senior official at a company that built a number of the hotels also said there is no such surveillance in rooms occupied by guests.
There you go. No reason to worry.