The U.S. intelligence community has abandoned its support for rebuilding the new embassy in Moscow that was purportedly planted with listening devices by Soviet workers, a State Department official told Congress this week.
Central Intelligence Agency officials said they would agree to a less costly alternative put foward by the State Department to reconstruct several top floors of the building, a change intended to ensure security, the official said.The CIA's reversal and support for the alternative could expedite a solution to the gridlock that has frustrated the diplomatic corps and caused periodic skirmishes between the White House and Capitol Hill and among lawmakers.
The intelligence community's change of heart was relayed to a closed hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee by Ivan Selin, the State Department's undersecretary for management.
Selin also told the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary that the recent fire at the existing U.S. Embassy in Moscow will cost about $10 million to repair, far lower than many had expected.
Two weeks ago a fire broke out in an elevator shaft in the embassy, engulfing the embassy's rooftop, which was destroyed.
Repairs would be necessary to the existing embassy even if Congress agrees to support the modification plan for the new U.S. embassy, which is expected to cost at least $200 million and take more than four years to complete.
Rebuilding the bugged facility, which was under construction at the time the bugging devices were detected, would cost at least $500 million, government officials say.
Both plans are in excess of the $130 million the administration has proposed in its fiscal 1992 budget for the embassy.
Last month, in an effort aimed at fixing the bugged embassy, the State Department formulated the alternative proposal, known as the "top hat" alteration, in which several top floors would be replaced by U.S. construction workers. The change would enable U.S. diplomats stationed in Moscow to use the building but have ample office space for discussion of secret matters.
The plan has not been formally proposed to Congress, though it is widely known among congressmen and senators on the foreign affairs panels.
Lawmakers reacted bitterly in 1985 to news that the new embassy was filled with listening devices planted by Soviet workers and refused to finance a new building.