WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) - FBI officials were so proud of a secret tunnel built beneath the Russian Embassy for electronic surveillance during the final years of the Cold War that they offered tours to senior officials with top security clearances, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, arrested on Feb. 18 on charges of selling secrets to Moscow for 15 years, is suspected of having disclosed the existence of the tunnel to his Soviet handlers.
U.S. media first reported the existence of the tunnel earlier this month.
The Post quoted current and former government officials as saying Hanssen's suspected report about the tunnel likely nullified the technological advantages the FBI could have gained from such close-range access to the then-Soviet embassy.
The Post quoted one former U.S. official who said he was offered a tour but declined the invitation because he is claustrophobic.
He told the Post the tunnel was accessed from a residence near the Soviet - now Russian - compound on Mount Alto, a hilltop north of Washington's swanky Georgetown neighborhood and one of the highest sites in Washington. The former
official said the government purchased the home and started digging the tunnel out of its basement.
The paper quoted another former official as saying he had toured the passageway but declined to describe it, saying everything about it remains highly classified.
One intelligence source with direct knowledge of the technology Hanssen allegedly compromised told the Post the Soviets used the FBI bugs and wiretaps to feed disinformation back to the U.S. government.
"They were obviously feeding a very large quantity of data to us of apparent value but no real value," the paper quoted the source as saying. "It was a very delicate game that was played out over several years."