Leathernecks in unusual position: on defensive. Marines' role as embassy watchdogs under scrutiny

In the halls of Washington, the United States Marines are now under a kind of fire they're not used to - words. The use of young marines as guards at US embassies is being reviewed by the Pentagon in the wake of charges that two such guards took part in a Moscow spy scheme. Officials are wondering whether Marine-guard contingents are callow and ill-prepared, considering the sensitive nature of their posts. Deputy Defense Secretary William Taft IV has ordered a full investigation of their selection and training. Navy Secretary John Lehman says he favors random lie-detector tests for anyone guarding sensitive embassy information.

This criticism is starting to rankle some marines, especially in light of the recall of all Marine guards at the US Embassy in Moscow. They say the case of Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and Cpl. Arnold Bracy, who are charged with allowing Soviet agents access to sensitive areas of the US Embassy, is an isolated incident. ``This is the first time a Marine security guard has ever been suspected of security espionage,'' says a Marine official.

The Pentagon said yesterday the Marine Corps arrested another security guard from the Moscow embassy on the suspicion he failed to report contacts with Soviet women. Pentagon spokesman Robert Sims said Staff Sgt. Robert Stufflebeam was arrested Sunday at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

In another development, the State Department named William Brown, US ambassador to Thailand, to investigate security arrangements in Moscow. Ambassador Brown, a former political officer there, will return to Washington and also may go to the Soviet capital to question American diplomats.

More than 15,000 marines have gone through guard training since the program began in 1947. Now 1,300 are serving at embassies.

A young marine must volunteer to become a diplomatic guard. He is required to be a US citizen with a recommendation from a commanding officer and no hint of trouble on his record. He must have proven financial stability and remain unmarried throughout the tour.

Training takes six weeks, at the Quantico, Va., Marine base. The curriculum includes classes on conduct in a foreign environment, counterintelligence, security inspections, and ethics. Each prospective guard receives what the marines call a rigorous psychological examination.

Upon assignment, a Marine guard's main job is to provide internal security for an embassy compound's buildings. Perimeter security in more dangerous countries is often provided by locally hired private guards.

A 1985 State Department report on overseas security said the Marine guard role is ``essentially defensive,'' with guards serving as a deterrent to limited violence and as a delaying force to permit destruction of classified material in an emergency.

James Bamford, an author who specializes in intelligence matters, says Marine guards are ``no more a weak link than anything else,'' in the chain of protection of US secrets. But he says the number of recent espionage cases involving Navy and Marine personnel ``is getting to be ridiculous.''

Excluding the Moscow marine affair and the Walker family of ex-Navy spies, there have been 17 Navy-Marine espionage cases in the 1980s, according to Mr. Bamford.

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