It's still spy vs. spy
A Russian diplomat is ordered to leave after a bug is discovered
at the State Department
By ELAINE SHANNON/WASHINGTON
December 13, 1999
Web posted at: 2:22 p.m. EST (1922 GMT)
The hunt was maddening. All summer and into the fall, a bunch of
FBI irregulars called the special surveillance group--the "G's"
in bureau lingo--shadowed Stanislav Gusev when he angled for his
favorite parking spot near the State Department, then settled
onto a well-worn bench. Whenever Gusev, 54, a technical
specialist for the Russian intelligence service, fiddled with
something in his pocket, the G's state-of-the-art radio-signal
detector would come to life, indicating that a faint
low-frequency transmission was emanating from a bug somewhere in
the gray State offices.
But where? While the G's, dressed down like tourists, students
and street people, kept their eyes on the Russian agent, a second
team of FBI agents and personnel from the State Department's
office of diplomatic security was covertly scouring the
department with a Geiger-counter-size debugging device. An
inch-by-inch search of the first through sixth floors yielded
nothing. Then a few weeks ago, investigators found a tiny
microphone-transmitter on the seventh floor, a short walk from
"Mahogany Row," the ornate suite occupied by Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright and her top advisers.
The device was hidden inside a length of chair-rail molding
ingeniously milled and painted to blend into the aging woodwork
of a conference room used by the oceans and environment bureau.
"This is really a sort of James Bond scenario," marvels a top
official. "This is not something you go in and slap under the
table and walk out the door. It's extremely professional in
nature and sufficiently concealed so that you or I wouldn't find
it in a hundred years."
The bugging operation was disrupted by sharp-eyed Gs who were
driving near State on an unrelated surveillance last June. They
noticed Gusev, a known intelligence officer whose mug shot they
had memorized, standing on the sidewalk, and acting "oddly."
After alerting their superiors, the FBI operatives set up an
intense surveillance of Gusev.
At first he showed up two or three times a month, lounging on a
park bench, his hands moving busily inside two leather bags at
his side. They concluded he was making a "technical survey" of
the building, using concealed devices to seek the optimal angle
for an electronic penetration.
In late summer the G's observed that Gusev's habits had changed.
He parked and reparked a Russian-embassy car with diplomatic
plates, apparently looking for an optimum position for an antenna
concealed, as it turned out, in a Kleenex box on his dashboard.
Once satisfied, he got out and appeared to be working a
remote-control device hidden in his suit. All this led the FBI
to conclude--correctly, as events proved--that he had planted some
sort of short-range low-frequency device and was settling down to
Officials left the chair-rail bug in place for a few weeks to
make sure they could prove it was under Russian intelligence
control. Once the evidence was in hand, two FBI agents confronted
Gusev on the sidewalk at 11:34 a.m. last Wednesday. He claimed
diplomatic immunity and was declared persona non grata and given
10 days to leave the country.
The investigation isn't over yet. FBI agents and State
investigators are trying to determine the damage by interviewing
people who attended 50 to 100 conferences held in the bugged
room. They are also exploring whether State Department insiders
were co-conspirators, or whether Russian agents simply exploited
State's easy-going security policies, which, until August, did
not require escorts for diplomats and other visitors. To
fabricate the chair-rail molding, match the paint and install
it, officials say, Russian intelligence operatives must have
gained access to the seventh-floor conference room on several
occasions, with sufficient time to take measurements and
photographs and eventually replace the molding. And although
State Department officials now believe their building is
bug-free, they also thought that six months ago.
reporting by Massimo Calabresi/Washington
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Cover Date: December 20, 1999