Printer Friendly

The embassy quandary: bugs, beans and too many bucks.

s America about to risk loss of precious soybean secrets to the Russians? That's the alarming prospect raised by the recent offer made by a group of American businesses to buy the unfinished U.S. Embassy building in Moscow. Led by corporate chieftain Dwayne Andreas, who co-chairs a U.S.-Soviet trade council and heads the Archer-Daniels-Midland farm products conglomerate, the U.S. firms want to turn the embassy, which is allegedly infested with electronic bugs, into offices for A.D.M., RJ R-Nabisco, Ford and other corporations seeking gold in the steppes.

Good office space in downtown Moscow is hard to come by', and the perestroika-induced rise in U.S.-Soviet trade has increased the demand for corporate suites in Communism's capital. But although a price has not yet been mentioned, the Andreas deal is a bad one for U.S. taxpayers. If it goes through,they will have to pick up the hefty tab for a new embassy, which the Andreas bid suggests is not needed.

Iii April 1987 the Reagan Administration confirmed press reports that somehow the embassy building had been compromised by Soviet listening devices. There was an uproar. Members of Congress inspected the site in Moscow and decried the situation on network news. Studies were commissioned. Lawmakers and pundits noted with alarm that the wily Russians not only had infiltrated the embassy but had required that it be built in a low-lying area, while they had received permission to build their new embassy in Washington on a strategically located hill ideal for electronic snooping. In fact, the State Department in the 1960s had pressed the Russians to accept the site in the Mt. Alto area of the capital. Through all the fuss, details of the electronic eavesdropping have never been made public.

Whatever the extent of the bugging, the embassy problem is now on President George Bush's desk. He has inherited a plan left behind by former Secretary of State George Shultz, who last fall endorsed a proposal to raze the aborted structure and start from scratch, an idea backed by Ronald Reagan. The cost estimates of Shultz's scheme currently run as high as $500 million, which would cover the expense of making the building's main structural elements in the United States and shipping them to Moscow. Reagan and Shultz assumed that the chancery could not be salvaged. But the Andreas bid shows otherwise. If A.D.M. and other big-league corporations believe the contaminated embassy, once completed, could be used to conduct their business, which no doubt would involve trade secrets and otherwise sensitive information, then the building certainly can house nonclassified government activities.

After Reagan announced his support for the Shultz plan, a few Members of Congress questioned the Secretary's recommendation. Shultz's critics, including a few Foreign Service officers, thought he had gone overboard. "It's widely known Shultz was deeply affected by the [death of the] U.S. Marines in Beirut and the Moscow spy scandal," says one Democratic House staff member involved in the embassy issue. "He became single-mindedly obsessed with terrorism and security."

The critics wonder whether an unrealistic level of security is being sought. A report by a Congressional delegation that visited the building in 1987 set a high standard, stating that the embassy had to be "fully secured" and that Soviet eavesdropping equipment had to be "fully neutralized." That may sound reasonable. But former U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman, who served in Moscow under Reagan, questions whether it is feasible to make an entire embassy secure. The U.S. mission, he asserts, does need more than its present space for classified work, but not necessarily a whole building.

Other alumni of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow point out that no such building is ever fully s"The question is, Will we do ourselves a disservice by building something we think is secure?" says Mark Garrison, who was Deputy Ambassador in Moscow during the Carter Administration. Garrison explains that embassy employees are better off assuming, as he and his staff did, that with the exception of certain very small, confined areas reserved for classified work no part of an embassy is immune from spying.

A former Foreign Service officer recently stationed in Moscow seconds Garrison's sentiments. He doubts the new embassy can be made fully secure. Even in Shultz's dream embassy, he says, the staff should handle classified matters only within small "bubbles" of high security protection. So if workersina"fully sec u red"emb ass y ofthe future have to act as if the building is porous anyway, why spend millions of extra dollars to create an illusion?

The study released by the hard-line Congressional delegation that went to Moscow in 1987 noted that the uncompleted embassy could be finished and used for nonclassified activities-administrative functions, consular duties, the work of the U.S. Information Agency-and a relatively inexpensive, smaller separate facility could be constructed for classified operations. This option fails to meet the delegation's own standard of a "fully secured" embassy, but nonetheless some members of Congress are considering it along with other, less sweeping solutions. One possibility is to create secure pockets within the bugged embassy.

Readying themselves for the likely debate, a few in Congress have fretted publicly about the extravagance of the Shultz plan. Representative Neal Smith, chair of the appropriations subcommittee that covers the State Department, told Congressional Quarterly, "Any decisions that are made are going to depend a lot on the dollars we have." Senator Claiborne Pell, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, warns that any embassy plan will be weighed "in view of the many other budget requirements for our foreign policy."

Opponents of the Shultz plan may have economics on their side, but they are likely to face obstacles indigenous to debates on national security issues-especially since one force behind the plan is the intelligence community, which makes good use of the Moscow facility. Reportedly, the Central Intelligence Agency pressured Reagan to endorse the start-from-scratch alternative. One Senate aide maintains that while a number of career State Department officials are upset that so much of the department's money might be spent on a new em"there's a careful silence. No one wants to be against security or intelligence"

n short, the spooks want a building that is hermetically sealed. But even if the United States tries to achieve that goal, possibly spending up to $500 million, it cannot guarantee success. Soviet intelligence could target the companies making the embassy components, the security personnel guarding those components, the holding areas in Western Europe and Moscow where the prefab parts would be stored, the American workers imported to the construction site, and so on. It's quite possible that by ambitiously trying to make secure such a large project, the State Department will create greater opportunities for espionage.

The Andreas tender doesn't make the Shultz plan any more palatable. True, it would reduce the total cost of a new embassy: The U.S. government would recoup some of the estimated $30 million it has spent on the uncompleted building and would avoid demolition costs. But if the Bush Administration accepts the Andreas deal-and that would require Soviet permission-the United States would have to spring for a brand new building that, given the probability of cost overruns, might even exceed current estimates.

Let the U.S. entrepreneurs find their own digs-perhaps they could enlist Donald Trump in their search. The State Department should hold on to its prime piece of property and resist playing the Moscow real estate market.
COPYRIGHT 1989 The Nation Company L.P.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:US Embassy in Moscow
Author:Corn, David
Publication:The Nation
Date:Feb 20, 1989
Previous Article:The vagaries of Viguerie: reactionaries' reaction.
Next Article:Why Americans Don't Vote.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters