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Embassies Subject to Violence, Spying

During the 1980s, the Department of State spent more time and money than ever before on the security of its posts and personnel. From 1980 to 1989, more U.S. civilians died overseas in the line of duty than during the entire 19th century. The Department did not address security matters fully until after two devastating terrorist attacks on U.S. installations: In April 1983, a truck loaded with explosives blew up outside the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 employees, including 17 U.S. diplomatic and military personnel; and in September 1985, another explosion at the Embassy killed an additional 12 Foreign Service nationals. After a thorough study of the terrorist threat against U.S. diplomatic installations, the Department, with Congressional approval, began a $1-billion program for more than 60 construction projects worldwide.

U.S. installations abroad also remained a primary target for espionage, particularly by the Soviet Union. Twice in one year, the Department learned that the Soviet intelligence agency had seriously compromised security at the embassy in Moscow. In January 1985, the U.S. Marine Corps announced that one of its security guards at the Embassy had passed classified information to a Russian woman. In August of the same year, the Department ceased construction on the new embassy building, when an inspection revealed that Soviet intelligence agents had embedded countless listening devices in the concrete. After a comprehensive review of the project and years of debate in Congress, the Clinton Administration finally adopted many of the recommendations of the inspection report. By then, the unfinished embassy had become the most expensive construction project in U.S. diplomatic history.