Trusted Friend Talbott out of Loop on Russian Bug

Article excerpt

U.S. counterintelligence officers secured Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's agreement last August to refrain from briefing her deputy, Strobe Talbott -- a onetime Moscow correspondent for Time magazine -- about their discovery of a sophisticated Russian eavesdropping device concealed in a seventh-floor State Department conference room.

According to several U.S. intelligence and Justice Department sources, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, Talbot was kept out of the loop of the security probe that led to the arrest outside the State Department on Dec. 8, 1999, of 54-year-old Russian intelligence officer Stanislav Borisovich Gusev. "Talbott didn't need to know; it is as simple as that," says a Justice Department source who declined to expound on the reasons why the Clinton administration's main Russia expert was shut out.

A CIA source tells news alert!: "Talbott has long been widely seen at Langley as being too close to the Russians -- a sort of trusted friend, you might say." According to that source, only Albright herself and Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering were kept fully briefed on the progress of a bug hunt triggered when Gusev, the top technical intelligence officer in the Russian Embassy, was spotted last summer by an FBI surveillance team wearing headphones and loitering in his car and on foot on a weekly basis outside the department. The FBI team suspected immediately that Gusev was receiving transmissions from a bug. Talbot, they were afraid, inadvertently might let slip information about the security probe.

FBI monitoring of the Russian and a bug hunt in the department led to the discovery in August of the device -- consisting of low-powered batteries, a microphone, a recording mechanism and a line-of-sight transmitter. The device was concealed in a wooden rail molding in the conference room used by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental Scientific Affairs. When Gusev was arrested, a remote-control antenna was found hidden in his car. …