- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Tourists and news photographers will no longer be questioned by security guards outside State Department buildings, under a policy adopted the day a news story questioning the guards' actions was published.

Notice of the policy change came Friday, the day The Washington Times reported that the unlicensed private security guards, who have no authority off federal property, were questioning photographers outside the State Department's main building at 2201 C St. NW.

The Times also found that the same guards were writing illegal parking tickets off State Department property.

After being questioned about the tickets, the State Department asked the city Bureau of Traffic Adjudication to void 14 tickets improperly written by the guards on city streets.

"We did send out a memo on Friday which changes our policy about approaching people on the street taking photographs," said Andy Laine, spokesman for the Diplomatic Protective Service. "They are instructed not to challenge anybody taking a photo of the Department of State or a State Department facility."

Mr. Laine said the change in policy was done at the direction of the department, not the security company.

Art Spitzer, legal director of the National Capital Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the practice last week. He said he was glad the rights of citizens will no longer be violated.

"I think that is a welcome change in policy," said Mr. Spitzer. "Neither the State Department guards or any other police officer should be hassling folks about taking photographs in the nation's capitol."

The guards appear to be federal law enforcement officers, but they actually work for a private security firm called Inter-Con Security Systems Inc.

Inter-Con receives about $20 million a year from the State Department to provide 300 security guards. Most of them are not licensed as security guards in the District and do not have authority unless they are on federal property.

The use of security guards to hassle photographers and write parking tickets was discovered during ongoing investigations by The Washington Times of security breaches at State Department facilities, including the bugging of buildings by a Russian spy.

A photographer and reporter for The Times were stopped and questioned two weeks ago while standing on the sidewalk and told not to photograph the building by one of the security guards.

Security guards said that although they have no authority when they are not on State Department grounds, they were told to question people photographing the buildings.

"We knew we did not have any authority, but we were told to do it anyway," said a guard. "We're glad we no longer have to do that.

"We should not have been out there in the first place. It was wrong," he said.

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