Government Revoked Muslim Nuclear Physicist's Security Clearance To Retaliate For Criticism Of U.S. Policy, Says ACLU

June 26, 2008
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PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni, a nuclear physicist and naturalized American citizen whose security clearance was improperly revoked earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In an unprecedented move, the government - counter to its own policy - has denied El-Ganayni the chance to contest the revocation and refused to divulge the reasons behind it, citing "national security."

In its lawsuit, the ACLU charges that the DOE took away El-Ganayni's clearance to retaliate against him for publicly criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the FBI. The agency sought to cover up its retaliation against El-Ganayni, a foreign-born Muslim, for his constitutionally protected speech by invoking "national security." As a result of the revocation, El-Ganayni was fired from his job.

"After eighteen years of dedicated service working to improve America's national-defense capabilities, the U.S. government thanked Moniem El-Ganayni with a pink slip instead of a blue ribbon," said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania's Legal Director and one of El-Ganayni's lawyers. "The Energy Department knows it cannot admit that it revoked Mr. El-Ganayni's clearance because he has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. government's treatment of Muslims here and abroad, so it is hiding behind 'national security' to avoid having to explain itself."

During seven hours of interviews, representatives from the DOE and the FBI never questioned El-Ganayni about the possibility of security breaches or the mishandling of classified information. Rather, they questioned him about his religious beliefs, his work as an imam in the Pennsylvania prison system, his political views about the U.S. war in Iraq, and speeches he'd made in local mosques criticizing the FBI's treatment of Muslims in Pittsburgh.

El-Ganayni gave a speech in July 2006 at a Pittsburgh mosque quoting from best-selling books that sharply criticized the U.S. government's foreign policy toward Muslim countries, especially Iraq. He also criticized the FBI's handling of a raid in June 2006 on another Pittsburgh mosque, where the FBI needlessly interrupted high-noon prayers and frisked congregants on the sidewalks in front of Pittsburgh's press corps in order to execute an arrest warrant for a man they had already arrested several hours earlier.

Because of the loss of his security clearance, El-Ganayni was fired from his job with Bettis Laboratory, where he worked for eighteen years. During his time at the laboratory, he never received a negative performance evaluation, nor was he ever accused of misconduct. He regularly passed routine clearance re-certification.

"To realize after 28 years in the United States that I cannot share in this country's opportunities and freedoms is devastating to me," said El-Ganayni. "If this can happen to an innocent U.S. citizen who had been deemed worthy of a security clearance for 18 years, it could happen to anyone."

Born in Egypt, El-Ganayni moved to the United States in 1980. He settled in Pittsburgh, where he earned a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Pittsburgh and married an American woman. El-Ganayni became a U.S. citizen in 1988. In 1990, he was hired as a physicist by Bettis Laboratory, a Pittsburgh-area facility operated under contract with the DOE. El-Ganayni has been very active in the Pittsburgh Muslim community and helped to establish one of the region's first Islamic mosques in the 1980s.

"The failure to provide Dr. El-Ganayni with even the slightest explanation for DOE's actions is unprecedented and places him in the Kafkaesque position of not even knowing the charges against him. This is inconsistent with basic constitutional protections afforded to all citizens," said Keith E. Whitson, Partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, the law firm assisting the ACLU with this lawsuit.

El-Ganayni is represented by Walczak and Whitson, George McGrann and Paul Titus from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. The case, El-Ganayni v. United States Department of Energy et al, was filed today in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. A copy of the complaint can be found at: https://www.aclupa.org/our-work/legal/legaldocket/el-ganayni-v-us-dept-energy/

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