American tunnel under the Russian Council

I kept waiting for someone else to post a related topic to this but no one did so before everyone completely forgets the incident here goes.

It was announced that an agency of the American government (FBI, CIA, NSA, VISTA?) dug a tunnel under the Russian Council offices in San Franciso in order to monitor goings on there (using such things as listening devices, and computer monitors). It turned out Hansen (the FBI agent turned Russian spy) probably compromised this, but my question is, what is the legality of this activity by the U.S. government.

Yes, I know that they (the Russians) do it, so we can (or should be able to) do it. And, yes, they are the “bad guys” so as “good guys” we can (or should be able to) do it.

Still I wonder, is it legal for our government to do this?

The tunnel was under the Soviet (now Russian) Embassy in Washington, not the Consulate in San Francisco.

Now you know one of the many reasons I was waiting for someone else to post the question.

One of my favorite lines from Dennis Miller this past friday :

(to paraphrase)

“and the FBI said earlier this week that they were concerned mole Robert Hanssen may have told the Russians about the tunnel dug under the Russian embassy in Washington . . . well if they didn’t know about it then, they sure as hell do now.”

From Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations:

I would think that extends to intrusion in a non-physical manner, but I can’t verify that.


Thank you very much. That is very enlightening. I don’t suppose you know if the U.S. is a signer of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations?

And reading it, I suppose a lawyer could argue that unless there is a physical breech of the building, no “intrusion” nor “damage” was done and the “dignity” was not impaired either.

And if you don’t tell the Russians/Soviets, you wouldn’t be disturbing their “peace” either, I guess.

I wonder if that was the rationale used by the tunneling agency.

Yep, the U.S. signed it in 1961.

But what about American laws? Has the American government done anything illegal? Can the Russians bring a suit in regard to this now that an FBI official admitted that it has happened?

In all likelyhood, this type of thing IS an intrusion under the law. I wonder if, had the Russians caught a US agent in the tunnel, could they have shot him where he stood and faced no reprecussions whatsoever.

The Russians followed Dennis Millers lead and demanded an immediate explanation. The Americans advised them not to hold their breath.

The first hurdle is jurisdiction, while embassies are often described as sovereign territory they aren’t really. The protection ascribed by the vienna conventions as is set out above. It doesn’t immediately sound like a trespass as that usually requires notice to be posted but I bet if you were caught on the grounds you would be charged.

I don’t know US law deals with the concept of the state commiting a crime. The only time I have ever heard this done was in British Columbia where the government charged itself under environmental laws and it seemed pretty strange then. Certainly the individuals could be charged but that would never happen.

And yes, one would think they could sue. There is lots of precident involving mines and subways. The shooting would fall under diplomatic immunity except in texas where it would be justified.