Fired FBI Agent Says Termination Shows Bias

01.14.10 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A lawsuit (pdf) filed on behalf of a Jewish-American FBI agent whose security clearance was revoked based on unspecified charges states that his termination was an improper expression of FBI bias against American Jews, and complains that the agent was unconstitutionally denied a right to confront and rebut the claims against him.

The case appears to have arisen in part from an earlier investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel advocacy organization.  The FBI agent, named only as John Doe, says he was questioned about his contacts with AIPAC employees Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were charged in 2005 under the Espionage Act in a case that was later dismissed.

The new lawsuit, filed by attorney Mark S. Zaid, indicates that John Doe had faxed unclassified articles prepared by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service to AIPAC, as well as another unclassified State Department document.

“These documents were directly related to matters on which John Doe worked as an Intelligence Research Specialist and his contacts with AIPAC officials were neither inappropriate nor outside the scope of his employment with the federal government,” the lawsuit states.

“The defendants [FBI and Department of Justice] effectively punished John Doe for lawful, proper, and necessary associations with American citizens who are Jewish and/or have association with the country of Israel by revoking his clearance and terminating his employment based on his contacts in violation of his First Amendment right of association,” the complaint states.

The FBI action response indicates “an unfounded paranoia far out of proportion to the innocuous and/or professional nature of John Doe’s relationships.  Defendants have failed to offer any factual evidence indicating John Doe’s associations were illegal, suspect, dangerous, deceptive, improper, or even untoward,” Mr. Zaid wrote.

A government response was not immediately available, but will be provided at a later date.

The lawsuit has at least a couple of noteworthy aspects.  First, it is part of a recurring pattern of conflict between U.S. national security agencies and individual members of the American Jewish community over their relationship to Israel or its advocates.  After the Jonathan Pollard case, no one can say that government security concerns on this score are categorically mistaken.  But after the misconceived and aborted AIPAC prosecution, no one can say they are consistently well-founded either.

Second, the lawsuit raises a broader question about the constitutionality of security clearance procedures (in Executive Order 12968, section 5.2d, and implementing regulations) that permit revocation of a clearance on national security grounds without any explanation, any chance to respond, or any forum for review.

“By revoking John Doe’s security clearance without providing notice of the charges against him and adequate opportunity to refute such charges, the FBI and DOJ violated due process guarantees under the Fifth Amendment.  The FBI cannot summarily revoke John Doe’s security clearance when such action violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Mr. Zaid wrote.

Awkwardly for this line of argument, however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling (pdf) this week upholding the use of these very procedures.  Citing the influential but controversial case of Navy v. Egan, the court affirmed the Department of Energy’s revocation of the security clearance of Egyptian-born American scientist Dr. Abdel Moniem Ali El-Ganayni.

Perhaps the good news is that the security clearance system does not single out Jews and Arabs for questionable treatment.  John Dullahan, an Irish-born Army veteran and DIA intelligence officer, also had his clearance for access to classified intelligence revoked last year.  He challenged that action in another lawsuit (pdf), also filed last week by Mr. Zaid.