Related topics

Reagan Suggests New Moscow Embassy Will be Razed If Not Made Spyproof

April 8, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan, faced with an embarrassing spy scandal in Moscow, promised Tuesday to prevent ″further damage to our national security″ and suggested the $191 million U.S. Embassy being built in the Soviet capital will be torn down if it cannot be protected from eavesdropping.

Reagan, already hammered by the Iran-Contra affair, acknowledged he was warned in 1985 that the existing embassy was vulnerable to espionage and that Soviet employees should be replaced by Americans.

The president said reductions in Soviet personnel were ordered but that there were problems ″because it isn’t exactly a place where you can just go out and hire Americans.″

Frank Carlucci, the White House national security adviser, said that when Reagan ordered cutbacks in Soviet employees, ″action was initiated. Now, people can argue that it should have gone faster, people can argue it should have started back in 1979.″

Meeting with reporters, Reagan declared that the Soviets will not be allowed to move into their new embassy on a Washington hilltop until Americans occupy a new embassy in Moscow.

The new U.S. facility under construction in Moscow is due for completion in 1989, but there are reports it already is riddled with bugging devices.

″The United States will not occupy our new embassy building in Moscow unless and until I can be assured that it is safe to move into a secure embassy environment,″ Reagan said in a brief appearance in the White House press briefing room.

Two Marines who served as guards at the existing embassy have been charged with espionage. They allegedly became sexually involved with Soviet women and allowed KGB agents into the embassy’s communications center and other sensitive areas.

″I’m deeply concerned over the breach of security in our Moscow embassy,″ Reagan said, ″and while all the facts are not known, it is clear that the security implications are widespread and that additional quick action is required to prevent further damage to our national security.″

As the president spoke, two members of Congress who made an inspection tour of the current Moscow embassy criticized officials for resisting tighter security precautions and said the mission might never be declared spy-free.

″We should operate on the basis that the facility has been fully compromised,″ Rep. Dan Mica, D-Fla., said of the building that has served as the U.S. Embassy since 1953.

Mica and Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also told reporters in Moscow that the new complex would take at least five more years to make secure, and they did not rule out that it might have to be destroyed because it was riddled with KGB bugging devices

On Capitol Hill, Reps. Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, Jim Courter, R-N.J., and William Broomfield, R-Mich., introduced bills designed to abrogate the 1969 agreement under which the Soviets were allowed to build the hilltop embassy complex in Washington.

And Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said he would ask the House Intelligence Committee to hold hearings on whether the Soviets should be forced to vacate the residential buildings in the complex.

Reagan said he had directed Secretary of State George P. Shultz and the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to ″evaluate the condition of our new building and ascertain whether it will ever be secure or whether it may be necessary to destroy and rebuild it.″

He said he wanted a report within 90 days.

Reagan acknowledged that the advisory board as far back as 1985 had raised alarms about the use of Soviet personnel at the American embassy.

″We immediately started and did accomplish a reduction in personnel, in stages, that were there,″ he said.

″And I must say we did run into some embassy problems and opposition because it isn’t exactly a place where you can just go out and hire Americans to go and take jobs like that in the Soviet Union.″

The president said he would not permit the rehiring of Soviet workers at the embassy, even if the Kremlin revokes an order banning their employment there.

Reagan rejected a suggestion by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Shultz abandon plans to hold talks in Moscow next week with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, meeting instead in Helsinki.

″I just don’t think it’s good for us to be run out of town,″ he said.

National security adviser Carlucci said Shultz will have a secure room in the embassy from which to work.

Reagan, asked how he could continue to hold arms talks with the Soviets in view of the spying, replied:

″I think the whole business of espionage worldwide is something that we have to recognize takes place, and counter-espionage is employed by everyone, but at the same time, you don’t stop doing business.″

As for whether the incident had changed his view of the Soviets, Reagan said, ″I think I’ve been rather realistic about the Soviet Union for quite some time and, believe me, it doesn’t surprise me a bit.

″No, I haven’t change my view of the Soviet Union.″

Before his announcement, Reagan reviewed the embassy problem in a meeting with Shultz, Carlucci and other Cabinet members and advisers.

Shultz leaves Washington on Saturday for talks in Moscow next week with Shevardnadze. Because of the alleged spying scandal, fears have been raised that the secretary will not have a secure base of operations at the embassy.

Shultz told Reagan he will have ″adequate security - it won’t be optimal conditions, but it will be adequate to do his job both in terms of secure rooms and in terms of secure communications,″ Carlucci said.

He said Shultz himself ″had grave questions″ about going to Moscow, ″but the president indicated that on balance the issues that we have to discuss with the Soviets are of such moment that we believed it was worthwhile going ahead even though the conditions are not ideal.″

Reagan said he had instructed Shultz to make embassy security a major agenda item in his talks with Shevardnadze.

He also asked former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to head a panel assessing the alleged security breach at the embassy.

In addition, the president directed the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board ″to examine the procedures and practices used in our embassies worldwide to protect American facilities.″

Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger were directed to draw up recommendations on future management of security personnel at in Moscow and at other embassies ″with respect to length of assignment, selection of personnel and their supervision.″

Meanwhile, the United States accused the Kremlin of ″a breach of the norms of diplomatic conduct″ by infilitrating the embassy in Moscow with alleged spies and listening devices. A formal protest was filed in Moscow by Ambassador Jack Matlock.

In another development Tuesday, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman disclosed that about nine Americans who had replaced Soviet workers at the embassy since October have been recalled, some possibly for fraternizing with Soviet citizens despite warnings against it.

They were hired by Pacific Architects and Engineers of Los Angeles and sent to Moscow after screening and a week’s training in Washington. So far, about 36 Americans have been sent to Moscow, with a total of 65 to be placed there eventually.

Redman said some of those brought home ″couldn’t adjust to life″ in Moscow or had performed poorly in their jobs.

The Pentagon announced, meantime, that the Marine Corps was about to begin replacing the 28 guards assigned to the Moscow embassy and that 15 of their replacements were in Frankfurt, West Germany, preparing for the transfer.

On a related matter, Pentagon spokesman Robert Sims said a military magistrate had ordered that a third Marine arrested in the embasy sex-and spy scandal be released from confinement pending disposition of his case.

Staff Sgt. Robert S. Stufflebeam, 24, of Bloomington, Ill., is being investigated on suspicion of improper fraternization with Soviets.

Sims said the magistrate found insufficient cause to order Stufflebeam held behind bars. But he said the Marine is still considered a suspect and may face charges in the case.

Update hourly