The yellow rococo building that houses the U.S. Embassy on Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Street was until recently a highly protected and sensitive listening and communications post at the heart of the Communist world. But last week, with two U.S. marines in prison on spying charges and another accused of having an unauthorized sexual relationship with a Soviet woman, it became evident that the embassy’s vaunted security had been severely breached. As details surfaced of how the two marines gave free access to KGB agents to wander through the embassy’s most secret areas,
U.S. officials announced that all remaining 28 marines in Moscow would be recalled. Indeed, according to officials, the actions of the two marines have so severely compromised the secrecy within the embassy that, when U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz visits the Soviet capital next week to meet Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, he may be forced to use equipment in his State Department plane to communicate with Washington.
The scandal clearly shocked Americans: the two men are the first marine guards ever to be charged with espionage. According to U.S. officials, the honey trap—as secret service agents call it—that caught the two marines and possibly compromised several others was brilliant.
Two swallows—secret service parlance for women—a leggy 28-year-old translator called Violetta Seina and a cook named Galya, befriended the two marines, 25-year-old Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree and 21year-old Cpl. Arnold Bracy. Although trained to report and snub any approach by a local woman, the two men allegedly began clandestine relationships.
Seina soon introduced Lonetree to her Uncle Sasha, in reality a KGB operative called Alexei Yefimov. According to Marine Corps charge sheets, Lonetree, with Bracy keeping watch, escorted Soviet agents into the most sensitive areas of the embassy between July, 1985, and March, 1986. Both men were said to have accepted money from the KGB. Declared Shultz, a former marine:
“I’m saddened and I’m sickened.”
The most worrisome aspect of the affair was the mounting evidence that for the past year the Soviets have had inside information of key American strategies. They include all the planning for the October summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykyavik, all contacts with spies and tactics and trade-offs being con-
templated in the current arms control negotiations in Geneva. As well, officials said the embassy was so thoroughly bugged that when Jack F. Matlock Jr., the new ambassador in Moscow, arrived for his first day on the job last Thursday, he had instructions to write all of his dispatches to Washington by hand.
Secretaries in the embassy are no
longer permitted to use any device that emits electronic signals, including typewriters and word processors, because of fears that advanced listening devices have been planted in them. Messages to the embassy from Washington and other U.S. embassies around the world are now sent to Frankfurt and then relayed by couriers to Moscow.
The affair came to light last December when Lonetree, who was then posted at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, surrendered to local American authorities. But the full scope of his activities did not come out until three months later when investigators focused on Bracy’s activities. The young native of Queen’s, N.Y., had earlier been demoted from sergeant to corporal for having an affair with a Soviet woman. It was Bracy who told investigators about the late night wanderings of the KGB.
According to charges, the two men often worked together late at night guarding the embassy. Bracy sat in the bulletproof enclosure and controlled access to the building, using an electronic lock to open two sets of glass doors in front of him and a third set that led into an entry corridor behind him. Lonetree had the key job of manning the top floor of the building, watching the main entrance to the ambassador’s office, the CIA station, the code room and the bubble—communication facilities used to send and receive all classified information. Once inside, the KGB men apparently attached electronic devices to code machines, enabling agents across the street to receive copies of all documents as they encoded. They also easily penetrated the most secure safes in the building, according to investigators.
While the agents worked, Bracy routinely turned off alarms that they triggered. According to embassy personnel, when asked about the continual alarms, Bracy said that they had been accidentally tripped. Said Robert Lamb, assistant secretary of state for security: “It’s a very old building with a lot of potential explanations for false alarms.” Bracy even arranged to send the Soviet agents a special signal so that they could escape by a back stairway should any U.S. diplomats unexpectedly turn up in the middle of the night. Said Lamb: “We are all stunned. Sexual entrapment is probably the most basic and earliest espionage technique.”
Last week the state department, which oversees embassy staff, was preparing to bring marines from around the world to replace the Moscow guards. As well, Frederick Mecke, the top-ranking civilian security officer at
the embassy, was being called back to Washington for consultations. All diplomats and other civilian personnel serving at the embassy from 1985 until the present were also to be interviewed. Said state department official Phyllis Oakley: “We’re looking at all possibilities that could have happened over there.”
But already preliminary investigations have blackened the reputation of
the once-exemplary Marine Corps. According to intelligence officials in Washington, several people in the embassy knew last year that two marine guards were conducting an affair with the wife of an American diplomat at the embassy. As well, at least five of the guards were involved in selling currency on the black market last year.
Indeed, the Corps revealed late last
week that eight marines were summoned back from Moscow and dismissed from the guard program last year after a “non-Soviet woman,” believed to be British, had sex with several servicemen after one party. In an official statement, Maj. Tony Rothfork, the Marine Corps spokesman, said: “It was not a rape. The lady did not want to file charges.” Said one intelligence officer: “It’s fantastic. The KGB must know all of this. It’s amazing that the diplomats did not inform Washington.” Indeed, insiders predicted that several Moscow diplomats would be censured following the investigations.
The embassy’s immediate problem is how to assure Shultz secrecy when he arrives to talk about arms control next week. “The secretary will not be free to talk in his own embassy,” one official said. There is not sufficient time to sweep the building of the suspected bugs. And certain coding equipment will have to be shipped back to the United States and completely taken apart for inspection. Shultz has already asked Congress for a special $25million appropriation to restore security in both the Moscow and Vienna embassies.
For their part, the Soviets have remained largely silent on the scandal. Soviet foreign ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov did not deny that the two marines at the embassy had had contact with Soviet citizens, but he said that such encounters were of questionable value to Soviet intelligence. Clearly savoring the Americans’ plight, Gerasimov said of the marine pullout: “We were surprised by this, which shows a defeat of the famous U.S. marines, the former victors of Grenada. Recently, we have witnessed a loss of the capability to resist the enemy and sometimes one can fear that Reds are under each bed. Of course, we regret that the stay of the U.S. marines at the embassy is discontinued so abruptly. We are sorry for them.”
In the meantime, the two marines at the centre of the scandal are awaiting trial in a military prison in Quantico, Va. Conviction could carry a death sentence because the two men have been charged under military law. So far nothing has been proven and both have withdrawn earlier confessions. As for the swallows, they left the embassy as part of a general staff cutback ordered by the Soviets last fall. Seina went on to work for the Irish embassy in Moscow, but she resigned when the scandal broke. Galya dropped out of sight. According to intelligence officers, the swallows usually fly off well before the trap is closed. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.