All Western embassies in Moscow bugged. So say diplomats who find that it's getting tougher to keep secrets

All Western embassies in Moscow are bugged, most of them comprehensively so, diplomats here say in off-the-record conversations. Security officers for Western embassies are continuously fighting against penetration by the KGB, the Soviet secret police, attempting to keep key areas of an embassy - especially communications and intelligence - free from penetration. The espionage scandal that has blown up around the United States Embassy Marines has added new problems to an already long list of security worst-case scenarios.

The Marines scandal may inhibit, at least temporarily, the degree to which other Western embassies share their information with US colleagues. There are indications that these embassies are concerned that some of their confidential information has been compromised in the scandal - information shared either in briefings or in reports to the embassy from US missions abroad.

Off-the-record conversations here indicate that diplomatic missions are in danger of being tripped up by their own advanced security technology. Because of electronic alarms and monitors, fewer people oversee the security of a large building. And that means that fewer people need to be compromised or won over by an enemy intelligence service. The command post of surveillance systems is not easy to hide; it is often situated in the center of an embassy. Key ``target personnel'' are themselves easier to identify.

Certain common traits in embassy security emerged from conversations with diplomats.

On the positive side, physical security in most Western embassies is usually provided by men who are considerably older than the Marines who guard the US Embassy. They are often security specialists drawn from the police or armed forces. Most of them are married.

On the other hand, the alarm and monitoring systems used by most embassies are probably similar to those used in the US Embassy or less sophisticated. Visiting US congressmen this week described the US system as grossly inadequate.

The assumption that the age of security personnel is a protection against seduction has apparently not been tested: the recent case of US Marines is one of the first incidents of embassy guards being targets of such operations. Two Marines guarding the embassy were charged with espionage in recent weeks after having allegedly been seduced by Soviet women. Other cases of embassy staff being seduced by Soviet intelligence officiers have involved older and very senior diplomats. Moreover, despite increasingly sophisticated security, bugs are still dug out of embassy chancery walls with depressing regularity. ``On average, one case a year [of bugging] comes to light somewhere in the community,'' said an official.

The French Embassy's security arrangements are fairly typical of most Western embassies. The core is provided by Compagnie Republicaine de Securit'e, a French paramilitary group better known in France in its role of riot police. Its members are assisted by gendarmes. One French journalist returning for a second tour here recalls being surprised to find his ``village bobby'' working in the embassy. In addition, the embassy probably has at least one and perhaps several counterintelligence officers under diplomatic cover. ``So far we've had no trouble with them,'' said a longtime French resident, speaking of security personnel. ``Frankly we've more trouble with our ambassadors.''

He was referring to an ambassador in the time of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who succumbed to temptation in the form of a ballet dancer named Larissa. More recently, the embassy's communication system was reportedly found to be bugged.

The British Embassy security officers are drawn largely from retired policemen, military noncommissioned officers, or prison guards. But though they have apparently remained safe from temptation, the diplomatic staff have not. Once again, the most famous case of seduction was an ambassador. ``1968 was the year of Czechoslovakia and Geoffrey Harrison,'' recalls one diplomat with a sigh.

Other embassies have similar arrangements. Few have been free of major bugging. Last November, at least 30 - and perhaps up to 100 - listening devices were found in the walls of the Swedish Embassy. They are thought to have been there for a number of years, though the embassy is ``swept'' for bugs annually. -30-{et

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to All Western embassies in Moscow bugged. So say diplomats who find that it's getting tougher to keep secrets
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today