September 18, 2012
Diplomats are under orders to destroy classified documents at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, according to a State Department status report made public on Monday.
The move signals that the State Department is concerned that protesters will breach security at the embassy in Lebanon like they did in Libya where diplomat Chris Stevens and other embassy staff were killed.
The State Department has “reviewed its emergency procedures and is beginning to destroy classified holdings,” the report explains. It also notes that the embassy has sent home Lebanese employees in response to protests staged by Hezbollah over an anti-Muslim video purportedly produced by a neocon network in the United States.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Beirut after Hezbollah announced a protest against the video mocking the Prophet Mohammad. “The world should know our anger will not be a passing outburst but that this is the start of a serious movement that will continue all over the Muslim world to defend the prophet of God,” Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, told the crowd.
The Associated Press attempted to down play the State Department report by quoting a nameless official “who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss security procedures.” He said the destruction of classified documents is “routine” and “normal under circumstances such as those of last week for embassies to reduce the amount of classified material that they hold.”
In December, Hezbollah accused the CIA of operating out of the U.S. embassy compound in Beit Awkar in northern Lebanon. Prior to this, a number of CIA operatives were captured by Hezbollah and the incident reportedly forced the agency to roll back its operations in the country, according to the Washington Post. “It has caused irreparable damage to the agency’s ability to operate in the country,” a former CIA official told the newspaper.
The widespread practice of using embassies to conduct intelligence was exposed in 1979 during the Iranian revolution. In November 1979 Iranian students seized an entire archive of CIA and State Department documents, which represented one of the most extensive losses of secret data in the history of any modern intelligence service, according to Edward Jay Epstein.
“Even though many of these documents were shredded into thin strips before the Embassy, and CIA base, was surrendered, the Iranians managed to piece them back together,” Epstein writes. In addition to intelligence on Iran, the documents contained information on the Soviet Union, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.
In addition to destroying documents, the embassy in Beirut reissued a warning to U.S. citizens to “avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns. ” It said citizens “living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks.”