Mayor Marion Barry confirmed yesterday that security specialists reported finding strong evidence of listening devices on the telephones of his Southeast Washington home about three years ago, and said the news shocked him.
"When I was first informed, I was flabbergasted," Barry said in his first public comment about the reports. "Then I was outraged."
Barry added that he did not try to have the bugs and taps removed, but chose to let them remain, because "our position is we're not doing anything wrong, we have nothing to hide, so let them stay there."
The U.S. attorney's office has said that no federal official has bugged or wiretapped the mayor.
Capt. William White III, spokesman for the D.C. police department, said yesterday that the department had not done it either, and that there is no current investigation of any bugging or taping of the mayor's telephone.
The head of the local security firm retained by the D.C. government to do the "sweeps" yesterday confirmed an account by one of his consultants, Eddie Dockery, that the firm is "90 percent sure" the mayor's private phones have been tapped and his house bugged at least since early 1984.
Anthony Mele, president of the D.C.-based A. Mele and Associates, declined to discuss specifics yesterday, but said that he and consultant Eddie T. Dockery have conducted numerous "sweeps" of the mayor's home, concluding there apparently had been a "frightening" compromise of Barry's security.
Dockery had said Wednesday that security checks yielded strong evidence that the two private phone lines at the mayor's residence had been tapped, along with his car telephone, and that all the rooms in Barry's home were bugged.
The news of the security checks emerged two days ago after Dockery spoke to reporters following a one-hour appearance before a federal grand jury investigating District government contracting.
There are a number of unanswered questions concerning the matter, such as why Barry asked for the security check in early 1984, and why he did not use police to make the check.
And despite the mayor's assertions, some experts on audio surveillance said it is rare not to remove bugging equipment when it is discovered.
Mele declined to comment on why he did not look for the audio surveillance equipment itself. "That's not what I'm hired to do, removing or installing" bugs and taps, Mele said. "I'm in the business of detection."
"It's an age-old tactic," Mele said. "If you find something, leave it alone." He acknowledged that many security experts disagree with that approach.
Mele said that if he physically found listening devices, he would be obligated to turn them over to the FBI. He also cited a federal law that says that removing a listening device placed by law enforcement under a court order constitutes obstruction of justice. He added that it may not have been "politically feasible" for the mayor to have police do the sweeps because if they found listening devices, it could "put them in a lurch."
Mele said that he did not conclude who might have bugged the mayor, but said that his theory was that it was not tied to law enforcement. "I assumed it was more political," Mele said.
Dockery and Mele both declined to describe the technology used to detect the bugs and taps -- except to say that it involved sophisticated equipment -- and also declined comment on the types of listening devices apparently used. But Mele added that after every check made by him and Dockery, who he said served with him in the Army, they concluded there was "a very high probability that communications were compromised" at the mayor's home.
Mele described his firm, based downtown on Connecticut Avenue, as the only minority firm in the D.C. area that performs highly sophisticated electronic security work.
Yesterday the mayor's office confirmed Mele's and Dockery's accounts that their firm was paid under a D.C. government purchase order, an arrangement for retaining suppliers and consultants for jobs under $10,000.
Dockery could not be reached for comment yesterday to elaborate on his earlier statements. He had said that the mayor, whom he had met through his sister, asked him in 1984 to perform some security sweeps as a personal favor.
Mele said that after Dockery performed a few sweeps as a favor, using the Mele firm's equipment, Mele asked him to stop doing the work free but start doing it for the firm, for a fee. Mele said his request grew partly out of impatience with the free work, and partly out of concern that doing free work for the mayor could be "misconstrued" to be a bribe.
Dockery had said a police official told him to affiliate with a company in doing the "sweeps" instead of doing favors. Yesterday White questioned that account, saying it would be "inappropriate" for a police official to give such advice.