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in the House of Representatives


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Russia's notoriety for eavesdropping and espionage stretches back even to the czars. James Buchanan, U.S. minister in St. Petersburg during 1832-33 and later U.S. President, recounted that `we are continually surrounded by spies both of high and low degree. You can scarcely hire a servant who is not a secret agent of the police.' An 1850-53 successor, Neill S. Brown, reconfirmed that `the opinion * * * prevails that ministers are constantly subjected to a system of espionage, and that even their servants are made to disclose what passed in their households, their conversations, associations, etc.' Otto von Bismarck, who represented Prussia from 1859 to 1862, stated `it was especially difficult to keep a cypher secure at St. Petersburg, because all the embassies were of necessity obliged to employ Russian servants and subordinates in their households, and it was easy for Russian police to procure agents among these.' The tradition intensified and became more sophisticated under the Bolsheviks and their successors. The wife of the Italian ambassador in Moscow during 1927-30 said: `Spying on the part of the authorities was so common as not even to be thought of as spying.' 1

Footnotes at end of article.

Nonetheless, Western laxity in the face of these dangers also has deep roots. A confidential 1940 memo to the White House from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover related the results of an investigation triggered by British complaints that shared intelligence was being leaked to the Soviets through the Moscow embassy. 2 The memo revealed that single U.S. employees in Moscow frequented a prostitution ring linked to Soviet intelligence and that classified documents were handled improperly and may have been obtained by Soviet workers. The code room was found open at night, with safes unlocked and code books lying on the table.

By the 1930s, technical eavesdropping supplemented human espionage. Guests at Spaso House, the U.S. ambassador's residence, at one point were given cards welcoming and warning them: `Every room is monitored by the KGB and all of the staff are employees of the KGB. We believe the garden also may be monitored. Your luggage may be searched two or three times a day. Nothing is ever stolen and they hardly disturb things * * *.' 3

In 1952, the Soviet gave U.S. representatives a carved wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States. It hung prominently for years, at least part of the time in the ambassador's study, before a tiny microphone was found in the eagle. George Kennan's memoirs describe the event. In a theme now familiar, Kennan relates that Spaso House had been redecorated under Soviet supervision, without the presence of any American supervisors, giving them opportunity `to perfect their wiring of the house.' `The ordinary, standard devices for the detection of electronic eavesdropping revealed nothing at all,' but technicians decided to check again, in case our detection methods were out of date.

`Quivering with excitement, the technician extracted from the shattered depths of the seal a small device, not much larger than a pencil . . . capable of being activated by some sort of electronic ray from outside the building. When not activated, it was almost impossible to detect. . . . It represented, for that day, a fantastically advanced bit of applied electronics.' 4

In displaying this equipment to the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge charged that more than 100 similar devices had been recovered in U.S. missions and residences in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. 5 Jacob Beam, U.S. ambassador from 1969 to 1973, wrote that the `ever-present pressures' or residing in the U.S.S.R. included `physical surveillance, and constant bugging of conversations by various types of concealed devices.'

Such Soviet monitoring techniques have been regularly discovered and occasionally publicized during the postwar period. Incidents revealed during the 1980s alone are alarming in their scope and seriousness. In 1982, we verified indications that the new embassy building had been penetrated. In 1984, we found that an unsecured shipment of typewriters for the Moscow Embassy had been bugged and had been transmitting intelligence data for years. In 1985, newspapers revealed that the Soviets were using invisible `spydust' to facilitate tracking and monitoring of US diplomats. In December 1986, Clayton Lonetree's confession revealed that the Soviets had recruited espionage agents among Marine Guards at the embassy. Recently, we found microphones that had been operating in the Leningrad consulate for many years.

Although Moscow had developed over centuries a reputation for severe counterintelligence risks, and although the postwar period was replete with examples of this, U.S. State Department and embassy personnel continued to act like babes in the KBG woods.

The State Department has insisted upon retaining responsibility for embassy security, arguing that it best understands living and operating in a foreign environment and contending that the ambassador must have full authority over all embassy operations. However, the Department historically has been notoriously unconcerned about security issues and even has viewed good security as antithetical to its mission. As Jeane Kirkpatrick once put it, the State Department claimed the right to manage embassy security but failed to fulfill the attendant obligations. 6 For instance, despite the long history of espionage by Soviet nationals employed at Western embassies, the State Department, until several years ago, successfully blocked attempts to ban or drastically reduce use of foreign service nationals.

Scholars have argued that such attitudes are not merely a temporary phenomenon, but have become intrinsic to the organizational culture of the Department. James Q. Wilson has observed that the State Department's core tasks are defined as maintaining relationships and replying to documents, which lead its officers to value diplomacy, hence communication and openness, above all else. Some of us believe good diplomacy requires good security,

`But many diplomats believe that a secure embassy is one that seems closed, uninviting, forbidding. Security means saying little; diplomacy means saying a lot, albeit carefully. Security means keeping foreigners at arm's length; diplomacy means getting to know people by, among other ways, employing them. Some diplomats do not bother to argue the point; they give lip service to security but regard the people, technical devices, and organizational procedures that make up a security system as a bothersome encumbrance that often makes ridiculous demands.' 7

Predictably, Wilson says, security specialists within the State Department are not promoted rapidly, especially if they must compete with foreign service officers, and security considerations have not won scarce financial resources except under prodding from Congress and other outside forces during recent years. Even then, `every outside committee that looked at the matter concluded that the department was dragging its feet.' `Secretary of State George Schultz attempted to change this culture somewhat by fixing on each ambassador responsibility for embassy security, but with only limited effect.' 8 This outlook may be intrinsic to the diplomatic profession, since, for instance, the Britain Foreign Office behaved in similar fashion during the postwar period. 9

The primacy of superficial `diplomacy,' or temporarily smooth relations, over security was well exemplified in negotiation of the terms under which US and USSR embassies were to be constructed. The related, painful discussions dragged out over more than a decade. The Soviets were both obstreperous and patient, to get terms and delays facilitating espionage and other purposes. They succeeded magnificently. 1 0

Under the 1969 agreement on exchange of sites, the U.S. allowed Moscow to retain its old chancery once the new one was finished, but relinquished that right for the U.S.; by 1986 we had changed our mind and so notified the Soviets, but they have not yet conceded this reciprocal privilege and doubtless will require concessions for it. In 1972, the Nixon-Kissinger determination to further detente finally overrode what apparently was viewed as quibbling over details, and we finally reached agreement on conditions of construction; these terms also were to have been completed in 1969. We made the fatal error of agreeing to use Soviet labor and materials, and in internal documents the State Department offered three reasons for this: use of U.S. workers in Moscow would allow the USSR the same rights here, and this would present counterintelligence problems (a rare example of alleged concern in this respect, which overlooked other, larger counterintelligence problems); Soviet workers might be less costly, especially since Moscow promised full cooperation in providing workers (a promise later freely broken); and the Soviets had built all other foreign embassies in Moscow. This last point is noteworthy: other Western countries have made, and continue to make, the same counterintelligence errors as the U.S.

Negotiations to refine these conditions of construction dragged out another four years, whereupon the two sides finally signed a 1977 Protocol. Although even State Department officers had stressed the importance of maintaining parallel construction timetables and strict reciprocity in operations, in March 1977 the Department allowed the Soviets to begin construction. By 1979, when State finally secured a contract from the Soviet foreign trade firm designated under the agreement, Soviet housing units in Washington were essentially complete, and Soviet diplomats were allowed to move into them. As a result, when the U.S. subsequently ran into many construction roadblocks, its leverage to force contract compliance had decreased drastically. This contract also limited the State Department to nine on-site supervisory personnel, which gave Soviet eavesdropping technicians the run of the place; sometimes, as few as five were present. Charles Perkins, a member from 1976 to 1981 of the Moscow Security Advisory Group, claims that sophisticated measures were recommended to avoid and solve security problems at the Moscow complex; he concludes that most or all of those recommendations must have been rejected by our own people, probably for politically expedient reasons. 1 1

In 1983, Congress decided to act on reciprocity problems at Moscow and elsewhere. It passed the Foreign Missions Act, impelled in large measure by a critique of security conditions at our posts abroad and designed to give the U.S. leverage to improve security by providing means to retaliate in kind for poor treatment of U.S. officials and assets abroad. However, the State Department concentrated on the securing of reciprocal personnel and financial benefits, preferring to ignore the intelligence mission. The Foreign Missions Office, which saw counterintelligence as its primary reason for existence, was treated as a pariah within the Department.

Under the first Reagan Administration, National Security Council personnel pushed for greater reciprocity on issues of counterintelligence sensitivity and for more effective embassy security, particularly with respect to the Soviet Bloc. This aroused the ire of U.S. Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. Arthur A. Hartman, who in 1984 sent to Washington a harshly worded classified cable which strongly resisted proposed security improvements. By his own account, Hartman used `colorful language' to stimulate a high-level policy review of efforts to reduce Soviet representation in the U.S. to the level of U.S. representation in Moscow. He contended this would amount to a virtual break in relations and represented an attempt by some officials to close down Soviet activities in
the U.S. entirely, as well as a willingness to court a shutdown in U.S. diplomatic activities in Moscow. 1 2 Until he left Moscow in 1987, Hartman continued to oppose, via cables and personal lobbying, security improvements such as removal of Soviet nationals employed at U.S. posts. Although such persons were known to be employed or coopted by the KGB, the ambassador in 1985 made the rounds of Capitol Hill, including the House Intelligence Committee, arguing that the typewriter bugging incident had not been as serious as believed and that other alleged security weaknesses had been overblown, claiming that the embassy could operate securely despite any electronic bugging, and adding that such eavesdropping actually helped him by opening more channels to the Soviet leadership. He also echoed the State Department line that U.S. support staff was unduly subject to Soviet recruitment, unlike professional Foreign Service Officers, and that it was better to employ known KGB workers than to bring to Moscow Americans whose ultimately loyalty could not be trusted. 1 3

In this climate, years passed with little improvement in operating procedures at the old embassy and with the Reagan Administration at an impasse over what to do about the unfinished, bugged new facility.

Following devastating terrorist attacks and espionage scandals, the State Department asked a group led by former National Security Agency Director Bobby Inman to study security issues and recommend countermeasures and policy changes. The Inman Report, finished in 1985, listed repeated penetrations of embassies in the Soviet Bloc and recommended an overhauling and restructuring of security organization within the Department of State, including a new Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. In practice, however, State preferred to focus attention on counterterrorism rather than on counterintelligence. A 1985 report by the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board allegedly reached similar conclusions but also had little immediate effect. 1 4

Another group headed by Melvin Laird was appointed to study the Moscow fiasco, and in 1987 concluded, among other things, that Ambassador Hartman knew or should have known of problems regarding Marine security guard fraternization with Soviet support staff, but failed to take appropriate action. This report appears to have been quashed by the State Department, which apparently objected to criticism of an ambassador whom it considered exemplary, and to whom a large bonus had been given for outstanding work in Moscow. 1 5 These attitudes and the passage of four years without a decision on the bugged new embassy infuriated Senator Ernest Hollings, who in April 1987 helped galvanize the Senate Intelligence and Appropriations Committees into demanding demolition of the bugged embassy. Hollings also allegedly suggested that the Attorney General prosecute involved State Department officials for criminal negligence. 1 6

Thus, while cultural inclinations within the State Department have contributed to the neglect of security, it is only fair to observe that until recently, no other executive agency was willing to press vigorously for change.

Intelligence agencies also long have neglected counterintelligence, as has been documented by many investigations pursuant to this decade's multitudinous spy scandals. Here, too, some recent improvements have been made, but the more exciting and rewarding pursuit of positive intelligence collection remains the dominant ethos and preoccupation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for its part, sometimes may, for the record, voice its concerns about unwise reciprocal diplomatic arranagements over which it theoretically has some partial jurisdiction. Examples include permitting the Soviets to build an embassy and consulate at points in Washington and San Francisco which were ideal for intercepting communications, and accepting Soviet construction terms within negotiations to build embassies in each other's territory. But while often raising relevant counter intelligence issues for the record, the Bureau seldom makes vigorous attempts to block policies which it feels are unwise from a counterintelligence point of view, because the FBI is ever conscious that it is a relatively small player in the foreign policy arena, and because it does not wish to be accused of obstructionism or provincial myopia.

Another important contributor to the new embassy fiasco was the hubris of US Intelligence, which considered itself the world champion in technical intelligence and believed that it could not be bested, despite indications over the years that this bravado was both false and foolhardy--and not only with respect to the Soviets. If the Soviets planted `bugs,' we would surely find and disarm them. Hence the blithe unconcern over negotiations, which allowed Soviet workmen to build the structure using precast Soviet beams and prepoured concrete, with minimal U.S. supervision at the site.

Belated discovery that the Moscow embassy was structurally riddled with eavesdropping devices and that, as reported in the investigation headed by James Schlesinger, we `do not yet understand either the technology or the underlying strategy,' was a most deflating shock. Schlesinger testified before the Senate Budget Committee on June 29, 1987 that:

`In past years, the Soviets were sufficiently behind us that we were able to detect penetrations, and neutralize them. That was the assumption in building this facility. We now face a rising curve of Soviet technology, with no gap between what the Soviets can do and what we can do; indeed, in some areas they have been ahead of us * * *. If one permits the Soviets to precast concrete columns and beams off-site, the prime party to blame is not the Soviets, but ourselves. We have presented them with too much opportunity, too much temptation for them to resist * * *.

With respect to both embassy construction and operations, we have a lot to learn from the Soviets.'

While even Schlesinger accepted the assertion that U.S. bugging technology long was clearly superior to that of the Soviets, the 1952 incident concerning the bugged eagle, described above, should have been sufficient warning that the Soviets long have been capable of innovative and effective techniques, even of technological leaps. Although Soviet gadgets and gizmos are not consistently what we would consider state of the art in terms of design and performance, the overriding requirements are that they work and, above all, that the target be unable to find them. As revealed in the chronology above, in these goals they unquestionably have succeeded on numerous occasions, and doubtless in many more instances of which we remain ignorant. The American premium on sophisticated wizardy and pride in our overall technological superiority often leads us to ignore the possibility that others could be doing to us the same things of which we ourselves are capable, so we do not take elementary precautions against known or possible techniques. This tendency appears to be abetted by a lack of detailed information exchange between those aware of the latest Western technology advances and those who must defend against penetrations by the Soviets and others. Both turf and security concerns prevent dissemination of information that would enlighten security and counterintelligence personnel.

Most demoralizing and infuriating of all, the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on the new embassy could and should have been avoided, because U.S. Intelligence had timely warning about Soviet plans. After a 10-year silence, KGB defector Victor Sheymov revealed publicly that during 1980, only six months after construction had begun on the embassy foundation, he repeatedly insisted in the strongest terms that the U.S. should halt work on the building because the KGB planned to riddle the structure with eavesdropping devices, using sophisticated techniques so the bugs would be impossible to eradicate. 1 8 Sheymov revealed that devices would be imbedded in the prepoured concrete and in the steel beams. In addition, the Soviets would tunnel to the building foundation, and from there the building design would allow the Soviets to channel both listening and video devices all the way to the top floor at times of their choosing, after the walls were constructed. In a third round of redundant penetration, additional devices would be installed in furniture, equipment, etc., as opportunities arose.

Despite Sheymov's acknowledged credibility, construction continued, with attendant cost overruns, for another five years. The first independent confirmation of Sheymov's 1980 warnings was acquired in 1982, but it was not until 1985 that we conducted tests sufficiently persuasive to elicit, finally, a decision to halt construction. Placement of responsibility for the prior failure to act has been disputed. Some claim that the State Department refused to heed Intelligence Community warnings because of its traditional disregard for counterintelligence problems and the wish to avoid a diplomatic row, a long delay in acquiring coveted new quarters and painful renegotiation of the treaty. Others cite the Intelligence Community's naive conviction that it could both find and eradicate all the bugs. 1 9 Probably it was a combination of both.

Since U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department have harbored crippling attitudes, it was inevitable that the Soviets toyed with us and for decades exploited our overseas facilities to their substantial benefit. It was, as the saying goes, like taking candy from a baby--time after time after time. Occasionally, we would discover that we were being `had,' but until Congress became outraged over the weakness of U.S. counterintelligence and consistently sustained its outrage, pressure and threats over a number of years, little changed.

Following the Moscow embassy scandal, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board reportedly recommended that sole responsibility for embassy security be taken away from the State Department bureaucracy and given to a new quasi-independent inter-agency group reporting directly to the Secretary of State and with explicit right of appeal to the President. This `Security Evaluation Office' was indeed formed and physically located at CIA, but it was boycotted by the State Department. There followed a monumental and yet unresolved `turf war' between the State Department and CIA/SEO, with the State bureaucracy still refusing to recognize SEO's right to monitor adherence to standards. As part of its campaign to undermine SEO, State did establish a security oversight group within its Office of Inspector General, which has begun to address some substantive problems.

The State Department's determination to avoid outside oversight on embassy security has been so strong that it declared it was willing to take the entire $270 million for tearing down and rebuilding the Moscow Embassy out of its own already strained budget, if need be; partial funding by U.S. Intelligence apparently would allow unacceptable leverage over policy.

While the executive branch has exhibited indecision on many embassy security and counterintelligence issues, agencies did finally agree that the new embassy would have to be rebuilt. After years of debate, in 1989 they even reached a simmering consensus that the most viable option was to tear down and rebuild on the same foundation. For its part, however, Capitol Hill, which must fund any solution, remains in disarray. Within the House of Representatives, single-minded concentration on financial issues by the Appropriations Committee, as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee's fear of losing authority to the Intelligence Committee, have both abetted executive branch turf battles over responsibility for embassy security and impeded well-considered selection of how to deal with the bugged structure in Moscow. As will be discussed in a second installment, the counterintelligence implications of both the possible alternatives of the delay in implementing a decision sometimes have been accorded little attention on the Hill.

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1 Unless otherwise noted, quotes on this topic within the following paragraphs are from James S. Pacy, `An Essay in Quotes,' Foreign Service Journal (October 1, 1987), p. 23.

2 Philiip Shenon, `1940 Memo Criticized U.S. Embassy,' New York Times (May 27, 1987).

3 Saul Pett, `Bugged U.S. Embassy Stands--for Now--as a Reminder of the Cold War,' Los Angeles Times (Feb. 25, 1990).

4 George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1950-1963, Volume II (Little, Brown & Co., 1972), pp. 155, 156.

5 John M. Goshko, `At Moscow Embassy, Continuous Shadow War,' Washington Post (August 22, 1985).

6 Jeane Kirkpatrick, `Our Colossal Failure in Moscow,' Washington Post (April 20, 1987), p. A15.

7 James Q. Wilson, Bureaucracy, (Basic Books, 1989), p. 93.

8 Wilson, pp. 94-95.

9 Peter Wright, Spycatcher (Dell Publishing, 1987), pp. 367-68, 394, 434-35.

1 0 See US General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, Committee on the Budget, US Senate, U.S. Embassy, Moscow: Why Construction Took Longer and Cost More Than Anticipated (October, 1987), GAO/NSIAD-88-23.

1 1 Charles M. Perkins, `Where Moscow embassy went Awry,' U.S. News and World Report (May 18, 1987), p. 8.

1 2 Robert Gillette, `Tighter Embassy Controls Not a Cure, Hartman Says,' Los Angeles Times (May 2, 1987), p. 31.

1 3 See, for example: Bernard Gwertzman, `$5 Billion Plan Aims to Protect U.S. Embassies,' New York Times (Sept. 29, 1985), p. 1; and John Walcott, U.S. Suspected Embassy Spying for Years,' Wall Street Journal (April 3, 1987), p. 4.

1 5 Stephen Engelberg, `Reagan Was Told in '85 of Problem in Moscow Embassy,' New York Times (April 3, 1987).

1 5 See, for example: Richard Halloran, `Envoy is Blamed in Moscow Spying,' New York Times (Jan. 20, 1988); `Having a Fit,' Washington Times (July 28, 1987), p. 3; George C. Wilson and Molly Moore, `Ex-Ambassador Shares Blame for Moscow Scaldal, Webb Says,' Washington Post (May 8, 1987), P. 3; and Bill Gertz, `Officials Claim State Closets Report Criticizing Hartman,' Washington Times (July 22, 1987), p. A3.

1 6 Bill Gertz, `Spy Law May Apply to Negligent Staff,' Washington Times (May 1, 1987), p. 1.

1 7 `For the Record,' Washington Post (July 1, 1987), p. A18.

1 8 See George Lardner, `Unbeatable Bugs: The Moscow Embassy Fiasco,' Washington Post, June 18, 1990, pp. A1, A21.

1 9 For allegations to this effect quoting State Department officials, see Lardner, p. A21.