Published June 01, 2007
WASHINGTON – Detailed plans for the new U.S. Embassy under construction in Baghdad appeared online Thursday in a breach of the tight security surrounding the sensitive project.
Computer-generated projections of the soon-to-be completed, heavily fortified compound were posted on the Web site of the Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm that was contracted to design the massive facility in the Iraqi capital.
The images were removed by Berger Devine Yaeger Inc. shortly after the company was contacted by the State Department.
"We work very hard to ensure the safety and security of our employees overseas," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a department spokesman. "This kind of information out in the public domain detracts from that effort."
The 10 images included a scheme of the overall layout of the compound, plus depictions of individual buildings including the embassy itself, office annexes, the Marine Corps security post, swimming pool, recreation center and the ambassador's and deputy ambassador's residences.
U.S. officials said the posted plans conformed at least roughly to conceptual drawings for the new embassy, which is being built on the banks of the Tigris River behind huge fences due to concerns about insurgents' attacks.
Dan Sreebny, a spokesman for the embassy in Baghdad, declined to discuss the accuracy of the posted images.
"In terms of commenting whether they're accurate, obviously we wouldn't be commenting on that because we don't want people to know whether they're accurate or not for security reasons," he said.
Berger Devine Yaeger's parent company, the giant contractor Louis Berger Group, said the plans had been very preliminary and would not be of help to potential U.S. enemies.
"The actual information that was up there was purely conjectural and conceptual in nature," said company spokesman Jeffrey Willis. "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground."
Some U.S. officials acknowledged that damage may have been done by the postings and used expletives to describe their personal reactions. Still, they downplayed the overall risk.
"People are eventually going to figure out where all these places are, but you don't have to draw them a map," said one senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the embassy project.
Few are, and in Baghdad, the construction is under heavy guard and treated with extreme secrecy. It is off-limits to all but those with special passes, surrounded by tall, concrete blast walls and impossible to see except from the air.
The images posted on the Web site show that the $592 million embassy, expected to be completed in September on prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, will be a spacious and comfortable facility, albeit dangerous.
Identified as the "Baghdad U.S. Embassy Compound Master Plan," the images show palm-lined paths, green grass gardens and volleyball and basketball courts outside the Marine post, as well as the swimming pool.
"In total, the 104-acre compound will include over twenty buildings, including one classified secure structure and housing for over 380 families," the Web site says.
It says the compound will include the embassy building, housing, a PX, commissary, cinema, retail and shopping areas, restaurants, schools, a fire station, power and water treatment plants as well as telecommunications and wastewater treatment facilities.
A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report last year said embassy security will be extraordinary: Setbacks and perimeter no-go areas will be especially deep, structures reinforced to 2.5 times the standard and five high-security entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit.