Electronic Bugs Infest Argentine Presidential Home

ARGENTINE President Carlos Sa'ul Menem and his wife Zulema have fallen out noisily on several occasions during their public life together. But their most recent bout has spilled over into affairs of state and sparked an espionage scandal. When Mrs. Menem two weeks ago moved out of the official presidential residence, she told a radio station she would feel ``safer'' at her old home, and hinted at threats to the president's security.

Last week the chief of the presidential guard, Brig. Andr'es Antonietti, revealed the cause of her complaints: ``Every single telephone in the presidential residence was tapped.'' A search found the palace bristling with bugging devices.

Tiny microphones had been hidden under the president's desk, in his official dining room, and in the offices of several top aides. And a bug was found in the office of the head of security.

Who placed the bugs is a mystery. While some officials privately blame the opposition Radical Civic Union Party, suspicion falls most heavily on Argentina's intelligence agencies.

The most prominent is the Secretariat of State Intelligence, a body that reports directly to the president. Currently undergoing a reorganization, SIDE is due to lose 1,000 of its 3,500 agents in a budget cut, but senior SIDE officials still worry about its efficiency.

``There is no professionalized intelligence civil service in Argentina,'' says a SIDE chief. ``Intelligence has always been a military affair, and though we have tried to bring the military agencies under one umbrella, ... none of them ever hand over everything they know.'' These services carried out the so-called ``dirty war'' under the last dictatorship, and no one has dared look closely into them since decmocracy's return in 1983.

Free-lance groups could also be involved. ``Sixty percent of phones being tapped ... are tapped by unofficial groups,'' says the SIDE official.

Meanwhile, officials in the presidential palace are tuning their office radios to easy-listening music stations, and leaving them on all day as background interference to confound the bugs.

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