December 9, 1999
JIM LEHRER: And the Russian spy story. The details now from Elaine
Shannon, crime and national security correspondent for Time Magazine.
ELAINE SHANNON: Thanks.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go through this thing from the beginning. Some FBI agents spotted a man outside the State Department. When did this happen?
|Identifying a spy|
ELAINE SHANNON: Sometime this summer. And, actually, they're not agents. There's a very interesting little-known group called the G's, which is a special surveillance group. They're picked not to be as boring and dull and clean cut as FBI agents. They're picked to blend into the population; they do a lot of surveillances. They were over there on another mission, and they happened to notice this guy. And one of them recognized his face because that's their job - to know the faces of all the Russian agents who are assigned to the embassy here.
JIM LEHRER: And what was this guy doing?
ELAINE SHANNON: Hanging out. And he was in a diplomatic car. He looked like he was kind of fiddling with something in his car. It just wasn't right. And so they set up a bigger surveillance on him, watched him more closely. He would start coming to the State Department several times a week often and fiddle with things in his car, sit on a park bench. This just wasn't right. So they figured there was what they call a technical penetration -- meaning that he was receiving some signals from inside.
JIM LEHRER: How long did it take them to determine who this man... you say they recognized him right away - recognized him as who?
ELAINE SHANNON: A Russian agent - and they knew his name. These people - they spend their whole lives knowing the names and faces of the Russians and other nationals who come here under diplomatic cover but who are in fact believable to be espionage agents.
JIM LEHRER: So, they knew he was a spy?
ELAINE SHANNON: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Then what did they do? They kept him under surveillance.
ELAINE SHANNON: They watched him. They began a big sweep working with a diplomatic security part of the State Department of the State Department. It took them quite a while because when they finally found the bug which was in the 7th floor conference room not in the Secretary of State's offices up - but near there, it was teeny, and it was very, very -
JIM LEHRER: How teeny? How teeny?
ELAINE SHANNON: They won't give us the dimensions, and all they'll tell us is that it was close to the most sophisticated bug they have ever seen. It had a good power source and it could emanate for a long time, but it wasn't emanating all the time, which is one of the reasons the sweeps didn't catch it when they do the security sweeps.
JIM LEHRER: So this guy, this Russian agent, he would drive his car... did he always park in the same place?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, that's another thing that they noticed is that he would get to the State Department and, like a lot of places in Washington, it's a tough parking area. It's one of the toughest. So, he'd park where he could with these diplomatic plates. And then he would - he knew that -- it was clear that he was angling for certain spots. So, he'd wait until whoever was there pulled out. Then he'd try to get that spot.
JIM LEHRER: And so his job was to monitor what was being said, and did he have a recording device?
ELAINE SHANNON: Probably, probably because he wasn't sitting there taking notes, but it appears that the device was remote activated. It's not something that was emanating all the time. He would get into his car and somehow turn it on and it would broadcast to him.
JIM LEHRER: All right. So last summer they knew he was doing this?
ELAINE SHANNON: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: So, did they spread the word, let's don't talk about anything top secret in that conference room for a while?
ELAINE SHANNON: Oh, no. They tried to keep their knowledge of this very, very covert because they didn't know who -- if anybody -- he might be working with. I mean, first of all, they had to find the bug. Then when they did, they had to make sure that that room wasn't used for top secret meetings.
JIM LEHRER: But they did do that, right?
ELAINE SHANNON: Yes, they did, but they couldn't tell people. They still don't know exactly who put that bug in that room because they have checked the State Department access records. And they don't find that he came into the State Department for a meeting.
JIM LEHRER: But what about another Russian diplomat, a legitimate Russian diplomat - so-called legitimate Russian diplomat -- was there any record of whether or not he or she went into that room?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, there are plenty of meetings in the State Department. And I'm told that one of the problems is that if you're a diplomat and you have an appointment with somebody and you're going to a conference, you can walk down the hall, you can go to the men's room, you can go to the press room. You're not escorted all the time. So they don't have a good log of who is in this room every moment. I think they're checking conference logs, but that's not going to be a definitive answer.
JIM LEHRER: But, I mean, all it would take for this kind of sophisticated gadget is to just literally take it out of your pocket and lean over and do something, slip it under the table, right?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, that's close. They say that....
JIM LEHRER: I'm making all this up.
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, you're good at it. They said it's not something that just slaps under the table; that's why they don't think it's another country guy that sort of gets some chewing gum and puts it there. It was, they say, professionally implanted. It took some time to do. It took them a long time to find this, but certainly somebody who got an appointment with anybody in the building to discuss what, you know, nuclear waste disposal, could have noticed that this room was open - you know -- and gone in there and done it.
|A continuing investigation|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now what happened yesterday when they arrested this guy?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, they were waiting for him to show up again because they wanted to prove that it was a Russian penetration and who he is. So he did show up yesterday about 11:30. They went up to him.... he was standing --
JIM LEHRER: Which side of the building? The building is a rectangular building. The main entrance faces South, right, toward the Tidal Basin and all of that, not the Tidal Basin but the Potomac River. Is that where this guy was parked?
ELAINE SHANNON: I'm not quite sure. It was by a green space, I believe, and he was standing by a bench. And he had gotten out of his car. They believed they saw him adjust the equipment in his car - adjust the equipment - and get out -- at which point the FBI approached and identified themselves. He immediately claimed diplomatic immunity. They took him down to a field office and let him cool his heels for a couple of hours until they called the embassy here. And the embassy sent two officers over to pick him up, and they confirmed that he was a diplomat.
JIM LEHRER: And that's the end of it? There's nothing that could be done about it beyond that? He could not be prosecuted?
ELAINE SHANNON: No. But it's not the end of the it because they want to find out how that thing got there -- are there any others in any other U.S. facilities? They believe they swept the State Department pretty good. But, of course, you're never sure about that. The technology may have improved even after this one was planted. And they want to find out what was heard on this thing. They think they have a rough date of when it was put in. It's not five years old. Is it one year old? Is it nine months old?
JIM LEHRER: And they would have a record of the meetings that happened in that room so then they could match that, right? Is that what they're going to try to do?
ELAINE SHANNON: I would hope so. But I don't know how good their record-keeping system is, and whatever it is it is not going to be perfect.
|The Cold War revisited?|
JIM LEHRER: The Cold War is over. What's going on here? Why are the Russians still spying on the United States, and why is the United States still spying on Russia?
ELAINE SHANNON: The day the Berlin Wall came down, I was - I called the FBI - I was calling over there and saying, well, are these guys coming over? Are you going to have lunch? They said no, the volume hasn't dropped, the phone calls are still being made. The dead drops are still being served. Everything they were doing, they're doing; they changed their name from KGB, to Russian Foreign Intelligence Service but that's it. And this has been consistently true. We can make very good weapons here. They make pretty good ones too. But they're our competitors. If they went to sell to the third world and they want to improve their weapons system, they might want a lot of our military and industrial intelligence. And they want political intelligence, look at Chechnya.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, but bugging the State Department - I mean, that's out of an old book.
ELAINE SHANNON: Yes. It's a wonderful yarn, and it happens to be true. And they did a very good job of it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. But we don't know how long - we don't know how long this has been going on?
ELAINE SHANNON: Probably early in the year.
JIM LEHRER: Earlier this year. Okay, Elaine, thank you very much.
ELAINE SHANNON: Thank you.