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Citizen Says Feds Have It in for His Wife

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - A financial analyst claims the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency wrongfully revoked his Top Secret clearance and barred him from the building because his wife, who like him is a U.S. citizen, attended a Saudi Arabian school and works for Islamic Relief USA.

Mahmoud Hegab sued the agency and its director Letitia Long in Federal Court, alleging they discriminated against him and violated his First Amendment rights by using familial association to essentially can him.

After he married Bushra Nusairat, Hegab says, the agency revoked his clearance because his bride had graduated from the Islamic Saudi Academy, a Fairfax County-based school controlled by the Saudi government. The agency also claimed that she was involved, or had been involved, with groups that are organized around their non-U.S. origin and advocacy of foreign political issues.

Hegab says the NGA gave him a file on Nusairat that detailed the key factors it used in revoking his clearance. He says the files included a picture of Nusairat at an anti-war protest in 2003. He says the protest also was attended by a U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. soldiers. And he says the NGA documents also referred to her affiliation with a college group that sought justice for Palestinians.

"The file provided by NGA further quoted Ms. Nusairat as saying: 'SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] has a mission ... which is concentrated on educating our membership, and the GMU community at large, about the ongoing Israel and Palestine conflict,' and that 'Our goal on this campus is to disseminate correct information about the plight of the Palestinian people and to be the voice of the under-represented,'" according to the complaint.

Hegab says he challenged the agency's decision, stating that his wife "is a U.S. citizen residing in the U.S. who has never been accused of any illegal activity or being associated with any illegal activity."

He says he provided scores of documents on the academic legitimacy of the Islamic Saudi Academy, and told the agency that his wife was 16 when she attended the anti-war rally, and that her employer, Islamic Relief USA, is a U.S.-based organization that seeks to alleviate suffering, hunger, illiteracy and disease.

"In his response to the proposed revocation of his security clearance, plaintiff argued that NGA's proposed action was based on rumor, innuendo and guilt by association, that it was religiously biased against Islam and violated plaintiff's and his wife's free exercise of their religion of Islam, their right to peaceably assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and their right to freedom of speech to express legitimate political concerns, all guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," according to the complaint.

Hegab says the NGA acknowledged that his argument "satisfied its concerns" about his wife's education, but said that his argument failed to mitigate her "current affiliation with one or more organizations which consist of group who are organized largely around their non-United States origin and/or the advocacy of or involvement in foreign political issues."

Hegab says he appealed the decision, this time highlighting Islamic Relief's charitable background in his argument, but was denied again.

"Plaintiff further argued that the denial of his clearance and access because his wife is employed as Program Associate by Islamic Relief USA reflects, most generously, a failure to examine and a misunderstanding of the facts and, less generously, an anti-Islamic bias among the NGA security staff," the complaint states.

Hegab wants the court to reverse the agency's decision to revoke his Top Secret security clearance, and award him damages.

Hegab is represented by Sheldon Cohen of Arlington, Va.

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