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At Threat to National Security; Improper Document Shredding

Jun 20, 2008
The next time you stand by the office paper shredder absentmindedly feeding outdated or sensitive documents through, keep in mind that insufficient document shredding was a key factor in one of the largest US hostage crises in history.

In November of 1979 fifty two US citizens were taken hostage after a group of angry students took over the US Embassy in Iran. Although the student's (calling themselves Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line) initial plan was to hold the hostages for only a few days, a week max, the US hostages were finally released on January 20, 1981, 444 days later.

What was the reason for the prolonged captivity? Insufficient document shredding. Really. After the recently fallen Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was allowed into the United States for cancer treatment, 300 to 500 angry Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran, convinced that the embassy was a center of opposition to the new government and "Satan's den of espionage."

Shortly after taking over the building, radical revolutionary students reconstructed and displayed confidential documents that U.S. diplomats and office personnel had frantically shredded as they were being invaded. This rushed document shredding job proved disastrous, as is helped strengthen radical Iranian claims that the U.S. was working in conjunction with Iranian moderates to destabilize the new regime. The Iranian regime later published the recovered documents in a series of books called "Documents from the US espionage Den".

Another notorious disaster fueled by incompetent document shredding was the 2001 Enron accountancy scandal. Much of the incriminating evidence in the Enron scandal was gathered from shredded documents, as many of the documents in the Enron accountancy scandal were fed through the shredder the wrong way (parallel rather than perpendicular to the shredder blades) making them easier to reassemble.

Since these incidences of major breaches in security, whether the outcomes were positive or negative, there is a high demand for more secure methods of sensitive document shredding. Following the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 the U.S. government has employed document shredding techniques including pulverizing, pulping, and chemical decomposition.

Many companies and offices no longer handle their own document shredding with common office paper shredders that have proven to be so unreliable. Instead of risking having their shredding documents stolen and reconstructed, making all kinds of sensitive and private information available, many companies choose to outsource their document shredding to shredding services.

These companies either shred on-site, with mobile shredder trucks or have off-site shredding facilities. All shredded paper is then sent to a paper mill where the material is recycled and turned back into paper. This gives the peace of mind of knowing that all confidential material stays confidential, with no risk of unauthorized eyes finding and publicizing your companies' or your clients' private information.
About the Author
Document shredding (http://www.nwwcom.com/records.shred.php) is a security measure designed to keep sensitive material private. The author Art Gib is a freelance writer.
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