A few months ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed the story of Moniem El-Ganayni, a naturalized citizen and nuclear physicist who lost his security clearance from the government under curious circumstances. El-Ganayni had been working for 18 years at a Department of Energy contractor specializing in naval nuclear propulsion systems. He had also been moonlighting as a prison chaplain, and his troubles began after he distributed a book to inmates with what the prison authorities apparently considered controversial passages. (The book, about ants, was written by a Muslim creationist, and on one page celebrated ants for being willing to "destroy enemies by committing suicide in defense of the colony." It turns out the passage was lifted nearly word-for-word from a book co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson.)
It was all a bit odd, but what really caught our attention is what happened next: The government not only declined El-Ganayni's request for reinstatement, it also declined to hold a hearing, as typically happens, or to explain why his clearance had been revoked. A new story in the Post-Gazette explains:
The decision to revoke Dr. El-Ganayni's clearance without holding a hearing was made by acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeffrey F. Kupfer, a Bush administration insider who grew up in Squirrel Hill.
Mr. Kupfer certified that the appeals process set forth in [Department of Energy] regulations "cannot be made available ... without damaging the interests of national security by revealing classified information. ... I hereby terminate Mr. El-Ganayni's access to classified information in the interests of national security."
We've put out a few calls to try to get a sense of how common--or rare--such a decision is. We are going to contact the Department of Energy, though we're not holding our breath there. (They did not respond to requests for comment from the Post-Gazette.) Meanwhile, Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists, told us, "The security clearance system is a notoriously flawed instrument that lends itself to abuse. Of course I don't mean to suggest that those with clearances are all bad guys, or that those whose clearances are revoked are all good guys. Rather, the problem is that the security clearance system lacks an adequate error-correction mechanism."
As for El-Ganayni, without the security clearance he has been fired from his job. After 30 years in the U.S., he is now in the process of moving back to Egypt. The Post-Gazette has a video of El-Ganayni explaining his decision.