Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nuclear physicist sues over revoked security clearance

Ok...so we are at a stage now that if you are a physicist with origins from a Muslim country, you have to be careful in what you say in the US (phew...I'm glad I didn't go into supernovae research - "what? You are studying the biggest explosions in the universe...AND you are from Pakistan??"). So here is a news item about a lawsuit filed in response to a move by the Deprtment of Energy to revoke the security clearance of a nuclear physicist:
An Egyptian-born nuclear physicist who worked in a government-financed laboratory here for 18 years filed a lawsuit on Thursday saying the Energy Department had revoked his security clearance because of his ethnicity, his Muslim faith and comments he made criticizing the war in Iraq.

The physicist, Abdel Moniem Ali el-Ganayni, 57, lost his job shortly after his clearance was revoked in May by Jeffrey F. Kupfer, the Department of Energy’s acting deputy secretary, who cited “national security” in refusing to reveal what led to the revocation.

“Our contention is that the reason the D.O.E. invoked national security here was to relieve themselves of the responsibility of having to tell us what’s going on,” said Witold Walczak, one of Dr. Ganayni’s lawyers and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ganayni became a naturalized citizen in 1988, eight years after coming to Pittsburgh to get a master’s degree and a doctorate. His former employer, the Bettis Laboratory, has said it would rehire him if his clearance was restored.

I don't know any details beyond this news story, but here is the claim from the lawsuit:

In the lawsuit, Dr. Ganayni, who has been married to an American woman for 26 years, claims violation of his rights to free speech and religion and to equal protection and due process. He asks that he have a chance to contest the revocation of his security clearance before an impartial hearing officer.

In a statement on Thursday, the Energy Department said, “This is a personal security matter as to which the department has no public comment.”

Dr. Ganayni’s clearance was first suspended, and he was assigned to a lower-paying job, in October 2007, after an interview with an Energy Department agent and a security officer at the laboratory, which works on nuclear propulsion projects for the Navy.

He said that during that three-hour interview and a four-hour interview with the F.B.I. two weeks later, he was asked about his religious beliefs, money he has sent overseas and comments he made in 2006 at a local mosque criticizing the Iraq war. But he said he was never asked about any security breaches at his job as a senior scientist at Bettis.

“What I said about the Iraq war, many Americans have said, and many senators,” he said, “But when I said this, I became like a traitor. That’s not right.”

Yikes - if the claim is accurate. Read the full story here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

They revoked Oppenheim's clearance, too, because he may have sympathized with the Communists. And by "sympathized with the Communists", I mean "wanted to avoid nuclear war."

It's a bitter thing to say, but the US government is pretty capable of revoking whatever security clearance it has given whenever it sees fit. It's kind of similar to the "right to refuse service" signs in certain shops or restaurants. To get the job, el-Ganayni probably had to sign away all sorts of rights on day one.

This can happen even if you don't have a security clearance, or even if you don't work for the government. For example, last summer when I started work for Greenpeace I had to waive my right to free assembly at a particular Air Force base near D.C. This was necessary because Greenpeace had made a deal that no employee would participate in a protest at that base in exchange for charges being dropped against several arrested activists. I did not regain the right upon leaving employment with Greenpeace-- I think that I'm still banned from any assembly at that location for the next five years.

The moral of the story for me was that if you work for the government, or an organization that has made a deal with the government, you need to prepare to sign certain things away. I wish the best of luck to el-Ganayni, but I don't like the odds he's up against.

Salman Hameed said...

I agree. Even if these cases are relatively few in number, these actions have long-term impacts. Look we still talk about Oppenheimer after all these years...

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