Spy watchers can read anything into a gesture. It is their job, after all. Still, Soviet KGB chief Vadim Bakatin's gesture was something far out of the ordinary. Mr. Bakatin, saying "I don't know how long I'm going to be here," turned over the plans and instruments used to turn a proposed United States embassy building in Moscow into a giant KGB microphone. His agency never admitted bugging the place, but U.S. sleuths had figured out that they'd been had long before the building was ever completed. And so it sits, a site nobody knows quite what to do with.
Even now. U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Strauss, accepting the bugging plans and a suitcase full of spy goodies, said later that he told Mr. Bakatin, "If I were to try to use that building, people would believe that you'd given me three-fourths of [its secrets] and kept a fourth back."
Many observers will recall that at the time the bugging was discovered, official Washington was greatly upset by the intelligence coup. Cooler heads noted, however, that the smugness had just been driven out of U.S. estimates of Soviet electronic sophistication. Moreover, the American intelligence establishment would have a field day crawling all over the site, digging out the latest Soviet eavesdropping techniques.