from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
March 8, 2001

If the New York Times story about a secret tunnel built for eavesdropping under the Soviet Embassy in Washington is true, declared Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 5, then it would constitute nothing less than "a gross violation of the universally recognized norms of international law, operating throughout the world in respect of foreign diplomatic missions."

In fact, however, it appears that the bugging of each other's embassy has been the norm in U.S.-Moscow relations.

In April 1964, the U.S. discovered that the Soviet Union had planted at least 17 microphones and other devices in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, and that clandestine Soviet electronic surveillance had proceeded for years without detection.

In October 1964, the State Department completed a damage assessment of the consequences of the Soviet embassy bugging.

Remarkably enough, the assessment found no identifiable damage from the entire operation.

"The results of our review of the political effects of the bugging of our Moscow Embassy are paradoxical," the partially declassified document begins.

"On the one hand, in the judgment of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, the Soviets achieved a major intelligence breakthrough, i.e., for a period of years they had the capability to read most, if not all, of our telegraphic messages between Washington and Moscow and between Washington and posts in Eastern Europe."

"On the other hand an extensive review of major crises and negotiations over the past twelve years does not provide evidence that the Soviets made use of knowledge thus gained to the detriment of our interests."

It seems that "the Soviets valued the source far more than the use of any particular piece of information they got from it."

"In order to keep us from discovering their intelligence coup the Soviets appear to have sacrificed many of the specific gains they might have made, and eschewed actions that might have given them away."

As one explanation for this surprising finding, the assessment proposes that "Soviet intelligence officers may well have hoped that this source of information might give them advance warning in the event that the United States ever decided to attack the USSR, and they would have been reluctant to jeopardize the source."

Yet even though "extensive quantities of classified information were compromised," the fact remains that "No instance could be found in which Moscow was shown to have made a specific decision detrimental to U.S. interest on the basis of information derived from reading particular messages."

The damage assessment was included in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, volume XIV, which was published by the State Department on February 21. This interesting volume is not yet available online.

However, the 1964 damage assessment is posted here:


Accused spy Robert P. Hanssen poses a flight risk and must be detained, the U.S. government insisted in a March 1 motion in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

"Virtually up to the moment of his arrest, he was querying the FBI's internal classified computer for indicators that he was under investigation. It is reasonable to assume that he was not doing this for the purpose of determining when best to surrender."

See "Government Proffer in Support of Detention":

"The prosecution of this case will require that the government provide defense counsel with access to certain classified information," U.S. attorneys noted in a March 5 motion. "The government has agreed to produce a substantial amount of such classified information to the defense in pre-indictment discovery."

See "Government's Motion for Protective Order and Incorporated Memorandum of Law":

Procedures governing the handling of classified information by the parties were set forth in a March 5 "Protective Order" issued by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton:

Judge Hilton is a new member of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was instrumental in Hanssen's arrest.


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