A headline yesterday incorrectly stated that Europeans will test a military-related laser tracking system aboard the space shuttle in 1987. The test is to be conducted by the United States.
Charges that the Soviet Union used a chemical dust to keep track of U.S. diplomats mark the latest chapter in a saga of espionage activities directed against the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for more than 30 years.
It generally is assumed in diplomatic circles that U.S. intelligence agencies routinely use various tricks of their trade to keep a similar eye on what goes on inside the Soviet Embassy here.
While electronic bugging and surveillance are an accepted part of the superpower rivalry, it is the Soviets, with their willingness to use more brazen techniques, who periodically are caught doing things that make headlines.
Perhaps the best-remembered incident occurred in 1960, when the United States was trying to deflect attention from the fact that its U2 spy plane had been downed in the Soviet Union.
Henry Cabot Lodge, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, dramatically displayed to a session of the United Nations a large, carved wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that the Soviets had presented as a gift in 1952 and had hung in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for six years.
Lodge said the plaque was a listening device, with a hollow inside chamber that produced resonance and permitted the Soviets to overhear conversations in the room by bouncing radio waves off the plaque.
Lodge charged that more than 100 similar devices had been uncovered in U.S. missions and residences in the Soviet Union and East European communist nations.
In the ensuing years, as advances were made in eavesdropping techniques, reports of Soviet espionage efforts became increasingly exotic.
In 1969, a security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest detected the voice of a senior diplomat talking business. It turned out that the diplomat had sent his shoes to be repaired a few days earlier and they had come back with a tiny but powerful transmitter in a new heel.
During the early 1960s, U.S. officials discovered that the Soviets were bombarding the Moscow embassy with microwaves to tap telephones and interfere with telephone and cable traffic. The bombardment continued through much of the 1970s and finally forced a strong public U.S. protest in 1978 about a possible health hazard to embassy personnel.
Disclosure of the microwave assault caused such a stir that the State Department asked the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health to make a two-year study of more than 2,000 Americans who had worked at the embassy. It concluded that they suffered no apparent ill effects.
Despite the protests, there have been U.S. allegations that the Soviets periodically resort to using microwaves and more advanced laser techniques to hear what goes on behind the embassy's walls.
At one point, Washington formally accused the Soviets of installing a "secret listening post" in the chimney of the chancery building and linking it to a neighboring Soviet apartment building by a tunnel through embassy property.
As recently as last March, U.S. officials said that Soviet agents had installed tiny sensing devices in several of the embassy's typewriters. The devices reportedly could pick up the contents of documents typed on machines and transmit them to antennas in the embassy walls.
In 1978, Soviet officials claimed to have caught an employe of the embassy consular section, Martha Peterson, in an apparent attempt to poison an unnamed Soviet official. Because she had diplomatic immunity, the United States was able to rush her out of the country and she dropped out of sight, with U.S. officials refusing to discuss the circumstances of the incident.
The espionage allegations have extended to this country, where U.S. officials frequently have charged the Soviet Embassy here and its consulate general in San Francisco with spy activities. Sometimes the FBI surveillance produces such dramatic results as the recent disclosure of the Walker family spy ring, charged with selling Navy secrets to the Soviets.
Sometimes the results are bizarre. When an aide to the Soviet naval attache delivered a package to the commander of the Washington Navy Yard last Christmas, suspicious explosives experts detonated it -- destroying two bottles of vodka intended as a present for the admiral.