A D.C. Police Department sweep of the Republican National Committee headquarters here early yesterday morning found no sign of bugging devices, but determined that suspicious loose wires actually led to a musical intercom system.
A squad of police officers conducted a detailed check of the offices for about six hours, but a department spokesman said yesterday that they found no bugging devices or electronic surveillance equipment. Police officials were quick to point out that they had not concluded definitively whether the office had been bugged in the past.
The loose wires were first discovered by a private firm that examined the offices of RNC co-chairman Mary Crisp on Wednesday after she became suspicious that her office was being bugged.
GOP party chairman Bill Brock, who asked for the police check when he learned of Crisp's private investigator's findings, said he believed the police statement "obviously clears the question of internal security."
But Brock said he wants the District of Columbia police to "get together" with Crisp's private investigator, Richard E. Govignon, "and explore any points of confusion . . . I'd like to see the matter expedited so we can clear it up as quickly as we can."
The discovery that the wires were for piped-in music was the latest in a series of bizarre developments after a report of an alleged bugging attempt at the RNC offices appeared in the late editions of The Washington Post on Saturday morning.
The weekend was marked by confusion among Republican officials who knew about the incident and how it should be investigated. In addition, questions were raised about the on-again, off-again aspects of the D.C. police investigation into the matter.
The police department maintains that it responded promptly to the first notificaiton of the incident, which came in the form of a 6:30 a.m. call Saturday from the committee's director of security.
GOP public affairs chief Michael Baroody disputed the official police account saying that his own Friday night request for an investigation was turned down by a police communications officer he identified as John H. Henderson.
Henderson could not be reached for comment. Baroody's notes of the conversation show that Henderson said the D.C. police could not enter the case because there was not enough evidence to go on and he suggested that Baroody seek help from C & P Telephone Co. officials.
When the security chief later was successful in getting police help at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Officer Larry E. Sterling determined that the wires were part of a music intercom system.
"The officer attached a headphone [to the wire] and found music coming through it," police spokesman Joseph Gentile said yesterday.
More than 12 hours later, the separate, more extensive investigation by the department's bugging squad confirmed the officer's finding.
Though the department found no evidence of bugging, the department spokesman said the investigation is continuing. He noted that the police have not yet talked with officials of the private security firm that conducted the first electronic "sweep" on Wednesday, which led to the discovery of unconnected wires in the ceiling and a puzzling electromagnetic field found in the office.
Intelligence experts said the electromagnetic field could indicate that the office was being monitored from outside the building. The police department bugging unit, which normally conducts wiretaps in gambling and narcotics cases, is not set up to check for such sophisticated listening devices, officers said.
Gentile said it will be "several days" at least before police can finish their investigation. He added that police "can't say the office was or wasn't bugged" at this point, only that nothing was found in the search.
Presumably, between the time Crisp requested the first sweep on Wednesday and the first police search on Saturday, any bugging equipment could have been removed.
Although police said the investigation would continue, Assistant Police Chief William Dixon said that he is "pretty well satisfied this thing got blown out of proportion." He blamed the phenomena on "paranoia at the Republican National Committee headquarters" and overraction by the news media because, among other things, of the possible similarities to the bugging in 1972 of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate.
In the Watergate incident, five men were arrested inside the headquarters in the predawn hours and bugging devices were found in the offices.
The discoveries that initially suggested possible bugging came in a period of tension within the GOP committee that one official has said amounted "almost to paranoia."
In previous weeks both Brock and Crisp had become targets for party conservatives. There had been an effort to replace Brock with someone closely identified with Ronald Reagan, the prospective presidential nominee. Crisp had annoyed conservatives and Reagan backers by her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and by statements about the independent presidential candidacy of Rep. John B. Anderson.
Republican National Committee lawyer Donald Ivers said yesterday that "I'm satisfied that the Republican Party's offices were not bugged.
"There has been a lot of discussion about why it got blown out of proportion in the first place," Ivers told reporters. "I don't know why it got blown out of proportion. I think the press blew it out of proportion."
The incident began when RNC co-chairman Crisp hired private electronics experts to electronically check for bugs in her office on Wednesday. She said she ordered the sweep after she heard mysterious "beeping" sounds on her home telephone and her office telephone.
She hired the Baltimore-based security firm of Interstate Bureau of Investigation Inc to conduct the check. At her office on the fourth floor of RNC headquarters at 310 First St. SE, the men first discovered in the ceiling a white-double strand of wire with a jack on one end.
The second discovery was of the strange electromagnetic force field around Crisp's desk.
Brock said he first learned of the discoveries when asked about them by a reporter on Friday, although at least seven members of his staff already knew about them.
On Saturday morning -- after news reports of the discoveries -- the RNC security chief, Winston Norman, notified police according to various GOP officials.
It is illegal under federal and local statutes to intercept conversations -- either by hidden microphones or telephone bugs -- without a court order, which can be obtained by authorities only under the most restrictive conditions. Either the FBI or the police department can investigate possible buggings.
The police department sent officer Larry Sterling to the RNC headquarters, and he determined that the wires were part of a musical intercom system, the police department said. He made his report to his superiors and went home.
Sterling, who said he is not a bugging expert, said yesterday that he went to the GOP headquarters alone because he was the only person available in his office, and that he did not tell Republican officials about his visit because their own security chief had called the police and he assumed the security chief had told his superiors.
However, Brock apparently was unaware of Sterling's visit and, through his aides, had arranged for a second private security firm to conduct another investigation.
Upon learning of Sterling's visit, Brock suspended the private firm's work three hours into its electronic sweep of the office.
After two more hours of closed-door meetings in which the Republicans officials tried to find out from D.C. police officials why Sterling had made his unannounced morning visit, the case was taken over by the D.C. police.
One police official who asked not to be identified said nothing sinister should be read into the time gap between the two police examinations of the office. He indicated the police did the second, more complete, check after Republican officials and the media continued to raise questions about the matter.
Some GOP sources yesterday were questioning the role of RNC security chief Norman, a former D.C. homicide detective who was hired by the committee in March.
Norman said that he did not learn of Crisp's concern that her office might have been bugged until Saturday morning when he read newspaper accounts. In an interview yesterday, Norman said however, that he had visited Crisp's office twice between Wednesday and Saturday.
The first time was Wednesday afternoon, when Norman was at Crisp's secretary's door and noticed "a bunch of people" in the office. These people may actually have been the private experts retained by Crisp to sweep her office for electronic surveillance, Norman said, but he assumed at the time, it was a going-away party for Crisp, who is resigning.
The security chief said he visited Crisp's office again early Friday morning.Accompanied by a maintenance man, Norman said he was seeking a key for an office that was changing occupants across the hall.
"My personal feelings are that they [GOP officials] should have reported this [suspected bugging] to me as soon as they found it Wednesday or Thursday . . . I would have called the police right away," Norman said.