WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird, presiding over the first meeting of a presidential panel to evaluate security at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said Wednesday the mistakes that opened the way for Soviet espionage go far beyond Marine guards charged with bartering secrets for sex.
"This is not just a Marine problem . . . it is a national problem and one that we are dealing with in the deliberations of this panel," Laird said. "Our responsibility is to find out what went wrong and how to improve security in the Soviet Union."
Vote to Close Session
The commission, appointed last month by President Reagan, opened its first meeting to the public to comply with a law requiring presidential panels to hold open meetings unless the members decide there is reason to close them. After about a half hour, the four-member commission voted to go into closed session because of national security concerns and Laird indicated it will not meet again in public until it completes its work in 90 days or less.
Laird said the panel hopes to devise plans for building and staffing a "model" embassy system that would be as impervious as possible to penetration by the spies of the host country.
Joining Laird, the first Pentagon chief in the Richard M. Nixon Administration, on the commission were former CIA Director Richard Helms; Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Diego Asencio, a former ambassador to Brazil and Colombia.
Reagan told the panel to report in three months on whether security systems and procedures at the embassy in Moscow were adequate, whether the procedures were properly implemented, and whether information was available that could have warned the staff about security problems. The panel is only one of a long list of Administration and congressional committees investigating the situation in Moscow following charges that two Marine guards were seduced by women working for the KGB and allowed Soviet spies to roam around the embassy at night.
A State Department commission headed by James R. Schlesinger, another defense secretary and CIA director in the Nixon Administration, is scheduled to report soon on Soviet efforts to plant electronic listening devices in the $192-million U.S. Embassy building under construction in Moscow.
The Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee have rendered their decision on the new embassy--they have said it should be torn down because the listening devices are so pervasive that the building never will be secure.
Congressional inquiries are also being conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board also is investigating the situation. The National Bureau of Standards recently told Congress that the new embassy building needs at least $1.5-million worth of repairs before it would be safe for occupancy.