The United States has expelled two Iranian security guards employed by Iran’s United Nations offices after the mission repeatedly was warned against allowing its guards to videotape bridges, the Statue of Liberty and New York’s subway, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
“These individuals were moving around New York City and essentially taking photographs of a variety of New York landmarks and infrastructure and the rest,” U.S. envoy Stuart Holliday told reporters at U.N. headquarters.
Holliday said the guards were “engaged in activities that were not consistent with their duties” -- diplomatic language for spying. He said they had left the country Saturday.
The Iranian mission called the expulsions unjustified.
“The guards in question never failed to observe any ‘no photography’ signs, and the videotapes and photos they shot consisted of obvious and popular tourist attractions in New York City which are of interest to any visitors in this city, such as the Central Park museums, parades and the like,” it said in a written statement.
“We categorically deny that they ever took any photos of anything of security or sensitive nature,” it said.
Holliday, asked about the Iranian contention, said, “We have, I think, great confidence in the ability of local and federal law enforcement to determine what actions and behavior is typical and what is atypical.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said it was the third time the United States “has required the departure of Iranian security guards for this kind of activity, which is inconsistent with their official duties.”
Security guards at the mission’s New York offices had been observed by the FBI photographing and videotaping transportation facilities and landmarks in the New York area in June 2002 and November 2003, and were warned against doing so, the officials said.
U.S. officials said guards assigned to protect diplomats at Tehran’s U.N. mission typically stayed in the United States for four or five months before returning home.