Soviet Espionage: Using the U.N. Against the U.S
(Archived document, may contain errors)
453 Septem ber 9, 1985 SOVIET ESPIONAGE USING. THE U.N. AGAIN'ST
THE U.S Charles M. Lichenstein Senior Fellow INTRODUCTION With
mounting concern, the West is discovering an escalating threat to
its security posed by Soviet espionage. The U.S government is
prosecutin g the Walker family on charges of giving military
secrets to Moscow, while the West German government reels from
revelations that some of its top security.officials secretly have
been working for East Germany. Ripples of this West German spy
scandal alread y have reached Britain and Switzerland.
Dwarfing these as spy threats is a Kremlin-directed espionage
center thriving inside the United States. At risk are, among other
things, the secrets of U.S. weapons, strategic military planning,
high technology, adva nced manufacturing processes industrial
innovations, and biotech and biogenetic research breakthroughs.
Espionage against these targets weakens not only U.S. military
defenses, but undermines U.S worldwide economic competitiveness.
What makes the U.S. par ticularly vulnerable to this espionage are
the convenient cover and access enjoyed by the spies. They are
diplomats and bureaucrats with a status even more privileged than
diplomats. Not only do they operate out of Soviet bloc and Soviet
client-state emba s sies'to the U.S., but more important--and much
more valuable to the Kremlin--they use as a base the diplomatic
missions, agencies and secretariats affiliated with the United
Nations, in the heart of Manhattan. 2 Their numbers run into the
hundreds. At lea s t one in three of all Soviet, East bloc and
client-state diplomats posted to the United States engages in
espionage. This is the confident consensus of U.S. intelligence
experts.' The term, espionage covers a multitude of abuses of
diplomatic privilege: i n forma tion collection (by open and covert
means, including electronic intercepts), acquisition of military
and industrial technology some of it purchased off-the-shelf, some
of it stolen recruitment and supervision of agents (some but by no
means all of w hom are U.S. nationals), and an array of "active
measures that involve, among'others, propaganda, spreading
Itdisinforma tion" and using front groups.
The estimate of one in three, in fact, appears quite conservative.
It is based, The Heritage Foundation h as learned from official
U.S. sources, on the actual record of confirmed case histories. It
probably would be much more accurate to conclude that one in two
Soviet bloc and client-state diplomats is involved in espionage,
warn Soviet and East bloc defecto r s many of whom were KGB (Soviet
State Security), GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) or East bloc
counterparts. This is con firmed by Arkady Shevchenko, former U.N.
Under-Secretary General for Political and Security Council Affairs,
one of the highest rank i ng Soviet officials ever to defect to the
West. Shevchenko writes in Breaking With Moscow (published this
year) that, of 28 Soviet bloc "international civil servantsll in
his especially sensitive unit in the U.N. Secretariat, at least 21
spent some or all of their duty hours on intelligence assignments,
in New York and elsewhere, under KGB control.
These numbers constitute a formidable challenge to U.S
counterintelligence forces. The danger to U.S. national security is
THE UNIQUE VALUE OF THE U.N.
There are two distinct parts to the diplomat-espionage problem. The
first is inherent in the normal, reciprocal exchange of diplomats
capital-to-capital (such as between Washington and Moscow) or major
city-to-major city (such as between the con sulates in Leningrad
and San Francisco The Soviets post several hundred diplomats to
Washington; the U.S posts a similar number to Moscow; each group is
a mix, as both sides know perfectly well, of diplomats and
Even on this regular d iplomatic level, however, the Soviets enjoy
the advantage of supplementing their own staffs with East Germans,
Bulgarians, Cubans, Afghans and other Soviet bloc and client-state
diplomats. Against key targets, they operate as a single, unified
hierarchy, w ith the Soviet KGB at the top. By contrast, the U.S.
maintains only loose, informal ties with the intelligence services
of its Western allies, Israel, and a few other countries I 3 To
make matters worse, the U.S wounds in this diplomatic tradeoff
suffers f rom self-inflicted The total American diplomat and
non-diplomat complement in Moscow is substantially smaller than the
Soviet Mission in Washington 202 vs. 495 (with 79 more Soviets
currently en route The Soviets, moreover, hire almost no local,
American e mployees for the non-professional positions at their
Washington embassy, but bring to the U.S. Soviet citi zens to serve
as embassy caretakers, mechanics, drivers and the like. The U.S.,
distressingly, uses mostly Soviet nationals for these jobs in
Moscow . The result: 224 Soviet citizens, under the direct control
of their government, now work inside the U.S.
Embassy in Moscow. It is no wonder that the KGB was able to dust
U.S. Embassy telephones, chairs, auto seats and other objects with
carcinogenic nitrophenylpentadienal powder to track the movements
of U.S. diplomats in Moscow.
The second part of the diplomat-espionage problem is even more
serious It is the unique circumstance of the U.S. serving as host
country to United Nations headquarters in New York City.
Here, of course, there is no tradeoff or reciprocity. All the risk
is borne by the U.S., for the U.S.S.R. hosts no United Nations--or
other truly international--body. For the Soviet bloc and its
clients, lfdiplomatic'f presence at and because of the U;N is pure
At the U.N., there are official missions of the Soviet Union, its
satellites and clients (plus the observer missions of such non-U.N.
members as North Korea, the Palestine Liberation Organization and
the South West Africa People's Organization).
Alongside the official U.N. missions is the U.N. itself--the huge
Secretariat, plus headquarters of the U.N. Development Program
UNDP) and UNICEF (the U.N. Children's Fund Employment totals more
than 15',000, of w hom 371 are from the Soviet Union, plus another
225 from the East bloc and the client states. As with Soviet bloc
diplomatic personnel, these U.N. employees are a mix of genuine
benign bureaucrats and intelligence agents.
Taken together, these components define the parameters of the
problem posed by the U.N. as a Ifsanctuary for spies" in the U.S It
is a problem that the U.S. imposes on itself, for no one forces it
to play host to the United Nations THE NUMBERS To present the
situation in the most cautiou s way, the number of Soviet-related
diplomat-spies is calculated to under estimate the magnitude of the
problem. As such, Albania, the People's Republic of China and
Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia are not counted. Albania maintains
nearly complete isolatio n from the Soviets and the Soviet world
generally; China cannot be considered part of any Soviet-led bloc
(although its U.N. Mission and Secretariat personnel in New York
may pose a security threat of another kind); and Democratic
Kampuchea is still repres ented 4 at the U.N. by a coalition of
opposition forces, partly anti Communist and wholly anti-Soviet.
Iran also is excluded, even though its ties to the international
terrorist network pose a clear security threat to the U.S.
Adding together all Soviet bl oc and client-state nationals who are
on the staffs of their countries' missions to the U.N. or who work
for the U.N the.tota1 comes to 1,204 potential agents of espionage
in the U.S. because of the U.N see Table SOVIET AND BLOC NATIONALS
IN NEW YORK Supp o rt U. N Dips. Staff Sec't. UNDP UNICEF
Afghanistan 4 6 Bulgaria 11 12 Cuba 35 21 Czechoslovakia 12 9
German Dem. Republic 13 13 Hungary 11 9 Libya 10 16 Mongolia 5 1
Nicaragua 17 0 North Korea 0 20 PLO 0 7 Poland 10 9 Romania 7 5
USSR 117 178 Ukraine 10 8 Vietnam 15 11 Byelorussia 9 5 16 14 26 17
13 15 9 0 6 0 25 40 10 33 1 11 27 15 5 approx 1 approx. approx.
approx 0 0 0 0 approx. approx approx. 1 0 0 1 1 total 2 total
total* to ta la 0 0 total 0 0 total* total 1 0 0 1 TOTALS 286 330 5
75 8 5 GRAND TOTAL 1,204 has been adjusted for a few U.N. employees
located other than in NYC.
No breakdown by agency is available for these countries. The total
also Libyan nationals in New York, uniquely, are restricted to the
five boroughs of the city.
SOURCES Diplomatic and support lists as of June 30, 1985; U.N. data
as of mid- to late-1984 All data from lists maintained by the U.S.
Mission to the U.N Still the total is too low. Most of these
'Idiplomats1l and international civil servants" are accompanied by
spouses an d /or adult dependents. On the basis of confirmed case
histories, U.S intelligence experts believe that they too undertake
espionage assignments of various kinds. Supporting this assessment
are 5 defector reports. Assuming conservatively only one spouse or
adult dependent for each mission official or U.N. employee, the
total doubles to some 2,408 potential security threats to the U.S.
Using the one-in-three estimate, the number of actual agents that
can be used by Moscow totals about 800 two ratio.urged by Soviet
defectors;the number of actual agents is about 1,2
00. Even those diplomats and U.N. bureaucrats who engage in no
espionage cause problems for the U.S., for the very fact that they
are on tap complicates the U.S. counterintel ligence challenge
greatly Using the one-in WHAT CAN BE DONE?
All of the experts consulted, from federal, state and local law
enforcement agencies, agree that effective countermeasures against
the enormous threat posed by 800 to 1,200 espionage operatives must
proceed along two parallel and complementary tracks numbers of
potential Soviet-related espionage agents in the U.S and to limit
their freedom of operation 2) U.S. counterintelli gence resources
must be enhanced substantially 1) every reasonable means must be
used to limit the Limiting Soviet U.N.-Related Espionage For almost
40 years, the U.S. Government has had all the authority it needs to
crack down on the U.N.-related Soviet threat to national security.
P.L. 357, enacted in 1947, clari fied the Headquarters Agreement o
f November 21, 1947, which governs the U.S.4J.N. host country
relationship. In section 6, this law states that !'nothing in the
Agreement shall be construed as in any way diminishing, abridging
or weakening the right.of the United States to safeguard its o wn
security" and in parti cular ''completely to control the entrance
of aliens into any territory of the United States other than the
(U.N.) headquarters district and its immediate vicinity."
Under this authority, the U.S. restricts the freedom of movement of
Soviet and some bloc diplomats at U.N. missions to an area of 25
miles from the U.N.'s New York headquarters the work that
legitimately brings them to the U.S., this is all the freedom they
need. In 1982, in the Foreign Missions Act Congress set up ad m
inistrative machinery within the State Department in an effort to
make these travel restrictions tighter To do Although the 1947 Act
makes absolutely no distinction between diplomats and any other
class of tlaliens,ll no restric tions ever have been impos e d on
U.N. bureaucrats. As a result in this year's State Department
Authorization Act, Congress made its intent clear beyond any doubt
or administrative fudging. The 6 Roth-Hyde Amendment, named for its
principal co-sponsors, Senator William V. Roth, Jr. ( R -Delaware)
and Representative Henry J Hyde (R-Illinois), extends to all
foreign nationals at the U.N the restrictions that now or may in
the future apply to their countries' U.N. missions. There is to be
no more free ride for those "international civil se rvants" who are
known to report routinely to their U.N. missions, to receive orders
from their governments, and.even to kick back part of their U.N.
The mandate of Congress is unequivocal. Effective follow-up action
by the State Department and t he U.S. Mission to the U.N.--even by
the U.N. itself-is now called for, in the following directions 1)
The Roth-Hyde Amendment went into effect last week it should be
viqorously enforced. There is no law or.interna tional convention,
nor any U.S. host cou ntry obligation, that allows U.S. "guests" to
break American laws or threaten U.S national security. The most
effective enforcement of the Amendment would be to require prior
notification by the U.N.
Secretary General of all offic ial U.N. travel (which would alert
U.S. counterintelligence agencies to potential security threats and
enable them to deny permission in some cases Further, U.N employees
who are citizens of countries under restriction should be required
to request permis s ion for "private travel. Such unofficial travel
should almost always be denied 2) The list restricting travel
should be expanded. None of the East European Soviet satellites is
now on the restricted list. Yet their diplomats and nationals at
the U.N. pose an obvious and serious security threat to the U.S.
The same is true for Nicaragua. The status of the People's Republic
of China is ambiguous. Its New York-based diplomats already enjoy
special privileges: they are free of all travel restrictions to 29
'lo pen cities" embracing virtually every major metropolitan area
in the U.S. This would not be curtailed by the Roth-Hyde Amendment.
Although China is no Soviet satellite, official U.S. sources
confide that Beijing's agents in the U.S. are deeply engaged,in i
ndustrial espionage 3) The size of some U.N. missions should be
reduced. The Soviet Mission to the U.N. totals 295--when
Byelorussia and the Ukraine are added, the total is 3
27. By contrast, the U.S.
Mission to the U.N. gets by with about one-third this number.
Surely, Moscow is taking advantage of the U.S. in its role as host
country. Similarly, Cuba has a staff of 56 at its U.N mission,
about the same size as major West'European nations whose
involvement in U.N. official business is generally much hea vier
than Havana's. The matter has run out of control. The State
Department immediately should define "reasonable ranges" for
mission size, based on such generally accepted U.N. criteria as a
country's population and wealth, and the scale of'assessed cont r
ibutions to the U.N. budget. This would force a cut back 7 mainly
in Soviet bloc missions and thus reduce the number of potential
spies 4) The U.S. should stop subsidizing espionaqe against the U.S
employees. This includes, of course, those who receive an d submit
to instructions from their governments (including instructions to
spy Charter. Another related Charter abuse that the U.S. tolerates
is Itsecondment,lt'by which the Soviets assign their nationals to
the Secretariat on contract and replace them at w ill. This puts an
effective lock on certain key positions--in personnel, public
information and Political and Security Council Affairs, for
example, whose chief always is a Soviet national--and enables the
Soviets to establish permanent espionage outposts within the U.N.
Secretariat. The U.S. should demand that the Secretary General put
an end to these Charter violations. Failing prompt effective
action, the U S. should withhold the appropriate por tion of its
annual assessment The U.S. currently pays 25 p ercent of the
salaries of U.N.
This is in clear violation of' Article 100 of the U.N.
Increasing U.S. Counterintelligence Resources Even without the
U.N.-related security threat, strengthening U.S.
counterintelligence capabilities is an urgent priority fo r the FBI
CIA and other law enforcement agencies. The espionage charges
against the Walker family make this clear. U.S counterintelligence
must be rebuilt after its systematic destruction during the 1970s.
It is a long and slow process. Of all intelligenc e specialties,
none is more demanding or dependent on experience than
counterintelligence. Since 1981, the U.S. has begun to rebuild;
more must be done. Such as 1) FBI counterintelligence forces in New
York should be increased substantially. More FBI agent s are
urgently required in New York City to monitor potential espionage
activities related to the U.N. The U.S. is now in the first year of
a five-year FBI expansion program, which will increase the FBI
counterintelligence force by about 50 percent nationw ide.
Exactly how many agents the FBI needs, and how many should be
posted in New York, is classified information. The President the
Attorney General and the Congress--the two Intelligence Committees
in particular--have the obligation to assure them selves and the
American people that the U.S. is spending what it must to rebuild a
counterintelligence capability fully in line with the Soviet
threat, including the U.N.-related part of the threat--and on the
fastest possible track 2) Adequate support staff and services
should be provided.
More agents alone will not get the job done. Required, too, are
telecommunications equipment, data banks, stenotypists, and sur
veillance and other specialists. The simple lack of an adequate
motor pool, for example, can abort an entire U.S. counterintelli-
aence operation. In addition. collaboration amonq all American a
law enforcement and intelligence agencies is essential. Currently
in New York, cooperation is excellent among the FBI, U.S. Mission
security staff and the sup erb New York City Police counterintelli
gence forces. The President and Congress must ensure the same high
level of teamwork within the U.S. intelligence community
particularly between the CIA and the FBI.
Soviet-directed espionage at the U.N. is a cross-border matter
justifying CIA involvement Almost by definition 3)
Counterintelliqence laws and quidelines should be reviewed.
A key element of the systematic attack of the 1970s on U.S
intelligence capabilities was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act of 1974 (FISA This was supplemented by Department of Justice
guidelines. Most U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials
say that neither FISA (which established a special U.S court to
pass on the legality of wiretaps) nor the Justice Depart ment gui d
elines seriously inhibit effective counterintelligence operations.
Yet outside experts and .former counterintelligence agents insist
that FISA and the guidelines have a Ilchilling effect Among other
things, they discourage agents from even requesting espe c ially
sensitive surveillance efforts. Thus while the special court almost
always says Iryesl1 to requests, it does so in part because it
never gets the really tough ones. The President, the Attorney
General and Congress must review the law and guidelines f or just
such crippling defects 4) The U.S. presence within the U.N.
Secretariat should be strengthened. Increased presence within the
U.N. Secretariat of tough-minded, fully qualified U.S.
professionals could inhibit the activities of Soviet bloc spies. A
m ericans inside the Secre tariat, moreover, could monitor the
situation better than any outside agents. They could spot
suspicious behavior--sometimes nothing more than a Bulgarian or
Russian who almost never turns up in the office. And they could
report t heir observations to appropriate U.S. officials without
compromising their .roles as legitimate international civil
THE "UNIVERSAL" SOLUTION Another way to bring potential Soviet
agents at the U.N under more effective control would be to break up
the routine predictable pattern of the U.N. operation. A useful
first step would be to keep moving the annual three-month session
of the U.N. General Assembly; one year it could convene in Moscow,
the next in Geneva, following that in Nairobi, and so on. This was
proposed in 1981 by former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and
endorse in principle by President Reagan. By rotating the U.N
venue, the bulk of the U.N. missions and the massive U.N. bureau
cracy would be operating outside New York and the U.S. for at least
three months annually. The U.N. sanctuary for espionage targeted
against the U.S. would be severely disrupted. 9 If all else fails,
then the U.S. must protect itself against U.N.-based espionage by
pressing for the ultimate option: moving the U.N. out of the U.S.
altogether and inviting the organization to find a new home
elsewhere. From the perspective of U.S national security it makes a
great deal of sense would, of course, argue that by such.an act the
U.S. would be turning its back on its worldwide responsibilities.
Geneva or Nairobi, however, as in New York, the U.S. would be able
to play whatever role it wished to play in the U.N., which might
even become more serious and businesslike The State Department and
its supportive tlestablishmen ttt In Moscow or CONCLUSION All of
the above recommendations are mutually reinforcing.
If all were pursued, the security threat posed by the privileged
sanctuary for spies provided by the U.N. could be brought under
Restrictions on Soviet and bloc diplomatst freedom to move at will
within the U.S., now extended by the Roth-Hyde Amendment to Soviet
bloc U.N. bureaucrats, should be rigorously enforced the list of
countries under restriction should be expanded to includ e the
entire East European bloc; suspiciously overstaffed U.N. missions
should be cut back; and the U.S. should stop paying its 25 percent
share of the salaries of U.N. employees who clearly are under the
control of their governments.. These actions would begin to reduce
the number of potential spies to manageable proportions.
The problem can be managed, moreover, by increased U.S
counterintelligence resources, adequately supported by staff and
services, further backed up by a strong U.S. presence inside th e
U.N. secretariat and rid of unnecessary restraints on their
If the U.S. is really serious about turning back the U.N related
Soviet threat to its national security, an arsenal of varied and
effective weapons is at hand.