When Mike Garrett oversaw the installation of security devices at the new U.S. embassy under construction in Moscow in December, 1985, he was startled to see that the initials for the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, U.S.S.R., formed a part of the building's facade.
Russian bricklayers, Garrett said, "thought it was cute" to use dark colored red bricks to form the initials of their country along the entire width and height of an outside embassy wall.
"There were a few Marines on duty, but they weren't really supervising the construction," Garrett said.
The bugging of the new embassy and other serious security breaches at the old embassy recently came to light with the arrest of two U.S. Marines. They are suspected of receiving sexual favors from Soviet women in exchange for allowing Soviet spies to roam freely throughout the embassy, placing bugs and copying secret documents.
"I'm not surprised by what the Russians did," Garrett said Wednesday at the International Security Conference at the Anaheim Convention Center. Garrett is a district manager for Communication Manufacturing Co. of Long Beach, one of 225 makers of security equipment that had booths at the trade convention. Salesmen demonstrated the operation of bugging detectors and access control systems that they said could have prevented the U.S. security problems in Moscow.
Garrett saw firsthand what he said was lax security at the embassy while he stayed there for a week in December, 1985, doing work for the U.S. government. "There were Marines on guard at the (embassy) entrance and at sensitive spots in the building. But there weren't any burglary alarm or access control systems in place."
Listening devices are suspected both at the current U.S. embassy and in the walls of the embassy under construction. The U.S. government is so concerned about security breaches in the new building that it has launched a study to see if it should be demolished.
The building also has been plagued by construction delays, which doesn't surprise Garrett. He said he went to Moscow to oversee the installation of a turnstile, operated by employee identification cards, that records the comings and goings of Russian construction workers.
"They had a problem with employees hopping the fence and going to another job site," Garrett said. "At the end of the day, they'd come back to the embassy and clock out so they could get paid for a full day's work."
Garrett said the installation of so-called "mantraps" would have prevented Marines from admitting Soviet spies to parts of the embassy where secret records were stored. Garrett's company exhibited one of these mantraps in Anaheim.
A mantrap looks like an enlarged telephone booth, and a pass card is needed to open the door. Once inside, a person must punch his keyboard identification number. As he stands at the center of the booth, he's weighed; this is cross-checked with the weight for the person on file.
"If the man wasn't the cardholder, or was accompanied by someone else, the doors would lock, and the security office would immediately be notified," Garrett said. A computer record also would be kept to determine who had entered secure areas and whether he was doing so at odd times or with unusual frequency.
Rob Muessel, a sales manager for Information Security Associates in Stamford, Conn., said the listening devices that the United States says are in its new Moscow embassy could have been uncovered by detection equipment manufactured by his company.
Muessel was exhibiting a machine that detects listening devices by picking up the radio signals they transmit.
However, listening devices are often shut off to make discovery more difficult. Muessel said these dead bugs can be uncovered during a security sweep by using a device that looks like a metal or mine detector. The device is triggered when it comes into contact with electronic components that are used in eavesdropping equipment.
Muessel's company provides security devices to various government agencies. He wouldn't say whether this equipment was used in the Moscow embassy.