Ex-worker sues secretive US agency, alleging bias

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2011 9:16 PM
Ex-worker sues secretive US agency, alleging bias

A former employee has sued one of the government's most secretive security agencies, alleging he lost his security clearance because his wife attended an Islamic school and worked for a Muslim charity.

Mahmoud Hegab filed the discrimination lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at Fort Belvoir.

The Alexandria resident worked at NGA as a budget analyst with a top secret security clearance. But his clearance was revoked in November after he got married. NGA officials told him they were concerned about his wife's schooling at the Islamic Saudi Academy, a private school in northern Virginia, according to the lawsuit.

Officials also cited her employment with an Islamic charity, Alexandria-based Islamic Relief USA, as a reason for revoking the clearance, the lawsuit alleges.

Also identified as cause for concern was his wife's participation in a 2003 anti-war rally in Washington sponsored by the ANSWER coalition, a left-wing group that has worked in conjunction with Palestinian activists at times. NGA also cited her time at George Mason University, when she served as president of a student group called Students for Justice in Palestine.

Officials at NGA _ which employs 16,000 workers supplying satellite data and other imagery to the military _ did not respond to an email seeking comment. All of its employees are required to have a top secret clearance due to the nature of the agency's work.

In his lawsuit, Hegab said he appealed the revocation and provided voluminous information to the agency in support of the Saudi Academy and Islamic Relief USA.

Specifically, he noted that ISA has assisted Fort Belvoir and other government agencies in Arabic training. He said Islamic Relief USA has a track record of partnerships with government agencies, including U.S. Agency for International Development. It also participates in the Combined Federal Campaign, which facilitates government contributions to qualified charities.

Islamic Relief USA said in a statement Thursday, "We are not a party to this lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on the merits of this particular case. However, we have not received any complaints from any of our organization's employees about discrimination when it comes to obtaining security clearances. In fact, because of the nature of our work, we do work closely with many federal and local agencies on a regular basis and anti-Muslim discrimination has not been a concern."

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As for her participation in an anti-war rally, Hegab told NGA that many people, including military veterans, also participated.

In the lawsuit, Hegab's lawyer, Sheldon Cohen, wrote that "the revocation of plaintiff's security clearance ... was based solely on plaintiff's wife's religion, Islam, her constitutionally protected speech, and her association with ... an Islamic faith-based organization."

Cohen did not respond to an email requesting comment.

As Hegab appealed NGA's decision, the agency eventually said it withdrew its concerns about the wife's attendance at Islamic Saudi Academy, but its other concerns remained, according to the lawsuit.

The Saudi Academy has been criticized by groups including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, for use of a curriculum similar to that in Saudi Arabia that some say promotes intolerance against Jews and Christians. The academy says it has taken steps to alter remove any offensive language from its textbooks.

The lawsuit requests that Hegab's security clearance be reinstated and that he be returned to his job with back pay.