Friday, March 25, 2005

The Enemy Within?

Meet Sadeq Naji Ahmed. He's going on trial in Detroit next week, for lying on a job application to become an airport security screener.

It seems that Mr. Ahmed forgot to mention that he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force in September 2001, after making statements sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.

Ahmed's lawyers claim the indictment is government overkill, citing his military record and his performance as a baggage screener for a contractor at the Detroit Aiport. Mr. Ahmed ran into trouble when he filled out an application to join the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in a similar capacity. He was conditionally appointed to the TSA in October 2002, contingent upon passing a background check, which included the application form.

I'm sure Ahmed's legal counsel will continue to paint his client as a victim. But there's more to this story than meets the eye. First of all, the Air Force says Ahmed made troubling statements over a period of more than two years, beginning in 1999. During that time, he reportedly epressed support for bin Laden; said he was neither for nor against the 9-11 terrorist attacks; said the United States deserved to be attacked, and stated he would not fight if the U.S. took military action in Iraq.

Alarmed, the Air Force yanked his security clearance and access to classified materials on September 11, 2001, and discharged him 11 days later. That's a remarkably fast discharge, and suggests the USAF was anxious to get him out of Eglin AFB, where he served as an information systems analyst. During a 20-year military career, I watched more than a few airmen languish in legal limbo for months, while commanders and lawyers decided their fate. Ahmed's speedy discharge suggests the Air Force discovered statements and patterns of behavior that made the airman a potential security threat.

But there are more than a few disturbing questions about this case. Ahmed reportedly made questionable statements for more than two years, but he was recognized as "Airman of the Year" for Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing in 1999, and "Airman of the Year" for the entire installation one year later. How can Ahmed's superiors justify rewarding an airman who clearly had sympathies with our enemies? And, why did it take the TSA more than a year to discover Ahmed's lie, and fire him? This episode demonstrates (once again) that federal agencies don't share information on a timely basis.

One more note: in his Air Force job, Ahmed had access to various military computer systems. So did Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, who disappeared near Fallujah last year, only to resurface at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. After returning to the states, Hassoun was charged with desertion, but never placed in the brig. Allowed to go on leave, Hassoun hopped a plane to Lebanon, where he now resides. Let's see...two Arab Americans join the military, gain access to sensitive computer systems, then express terrorist sympathies, or in the case of Hassoun, go AWOL with their knowledge and expertise.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

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