Negotiations over the building of new embassies for the two superpowers were completed in 1969. Bugs had been discovered in the old US building in Moscow just three years earlier but, amidst the improving relations of détente, the Nixon administration permitted the Soviets to have an unprecedented amount of input in to the design and construction of the new American building.

By the time construction began in 1979, the USSR had already manufactured concrete pieces for the building in their own factories. Since these were made away from US supervision, they were fitted with bugs that could not be easily spotted by a visual inspection when they arrived at the construction site. American technical experts still raised concerns, but proof of Soviet devices could not be proved until a team of trained rock-climbers began to X-ray the concrete pillars and beams in situ from 1982 onwards.

News of the situation reached Congress in 1985, and by the summer of 1987 it had become public knowledge that the Soviets had bugged the new building with technology that the United States was struggling to disable. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted in favour of demolishing the entire building the next year, and on October 27 Reagan formally called for a halt on construction. A decision over the future of the new embassy was left until after the Presidential election two weeks later.

Robert E. Lamb, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, later stated, ‘we knew the Russians were going to bug it, but we were confident we could deal with it. Obviously, we were wrong.’

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