- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires yesterday to demand an explanation for reports that intelligence services dug a tunnel under the Soviet Embassy in Washington in the 1980s.

Charge d'Affaires George Krol, the ranking U.S. diplomat while awaiting the appointment of a new ambassador, went to the ministry for "a clarification of the tunnel story," a U.S. Embassy official said. "A discussion took place to address that question."

A Foreign Ministry statement said the reports, if proven true, would amount to a "blatant violation of recognized norms of international law, valid throughout the world in relation to diplomatic representations."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the envoy promised to pass Russia's concern on to Washington, but he suggested the United States might not respond. "I don't know that we've promised to get back to them, and I don't know when we will," Mr. Boucher said at a daily press briefing.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would not discuss the accuracy of the report about the tunnel and said "any conversations between our nations will be private ones."

A spokeswoman for Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service, Tatyana Samolis, said she would not be surprised by the tunneling operation. "It is well known that the U.S. intelligence services harbor a passion for tunneling," Miss Samolis was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying. "Take, for instance, the Berlin tunnel from the 1950s."

U.S. officials said privately that the Russian protests about the tunnel are "blatant hypocrisy" because Moscow was found to have built similar tunnels under the new U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Construction was halted after the discovery in the mid-1980s that the entire structure was riddled with Russian electronic bugs.

Construction was completed in the late 1990s, and the tunnels, ostensibly to be used for utility work, were blocked off, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials confirmed that the FBI and National Security Agency constructed a secret tunnel near the Russian Embassy on upper Wisconsin Avenue to eavesdrop on electronic communications.

The tunnel is believed to have been compromised by accused spy Robert P. Hanssen, who has been charged with providing Russia with highly classified details of such programs. The tunnel was first reported Sunday by the New York Times.

"If this was compromised early on by Hanssen, the Russians had all the way up until recently to feed disinformation to the United States because we didn't know it was compromised," said Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA officer.

"And they are excellent at doing that," Mr. Cannistraro said.

Noel Matchett, a former National Security Agency official, said: "It is a well-known defensive technique. If you know someone is intercepting your communications, whether a government or industry, one of the defenses is to feed disinformation, and of course the Russians are masters at that."

One way disinformation could have been used by Moscow was to force U.S. counterspies to "chase up blind alleys" by going after false suspects or conducting investigations that were fruitless, Mr. Matchett said.

"What you're really trying to do is reduce the other side's [counterintelligence] effectiveness," he said.

"We were basically blind to Soviet, and later Russian, intelligence operations because of Hanssen's role in compromising all of our counterintelligence, methods, and techniques and targets," Mr. Cannistraro said.

According to U.S. News & World Report magazine, U.S. officials suspect Mr. Hanssen also compromised two very sensitive FBI counterspy programs.

One program, dubbed Pocketwatch, monitored Soviet commercial companies used for spying, and a second operation, known as Spiderweb, was a secret program to monitor suspected Russian intelligence officers.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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