Marrying Someone Who Works for Islamic Relief USA Causes Federal Worker to Lose Security Clearance

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November 14, 2011; Source: Charity & Security NetworkSome government actions in response to nonprofits don’t seem to make sense. Consider this. Touting its presence as an official listed on the Combined Federal Campaign and its 4-star rating from Charity Navigator (as well as a clean bill of health from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance), Islamic Relief USA announced its partnership with USAID in the FWD (Famine, War, Drought) Campaign focused on the famine in the Horn of Africa. In a pretty gutsy move, Islamic Relief terminated a deal with a donated drug broker, a woman who was taking a salary five times as large as the CEO of Islamic Charity’s and inflating the donated value of the drug (deworming pills) to as much as $16.25 per when they really only cost two cents—essentially giving the donor, whoever he, she, or it was, a huge and undeserved tax deduction. Give Islamic Relief credit for being willing to be among the few charities to blow the whistle on the quite common practice of drug intermediaries acquiring Indian- or Chinese-manufactured drugs for pennies and somehow arranging for their “donation” to charities as world wholesale prices to inflate both what the charities can claim as donated gifts and what the intermediaries can charge as storage and handling fees. The scam recently worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture when it was providing assistance to victims of tornadoes in Alabama.

Partnerships with USAID and standing up for nonprofit accountability don’t seem to count with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. It has revoked the security clearance of one of its employees because of his wife’s “belonging to ‘one or more organizations which consist of groups who [sic] are organized largely around their non-United States origin and their advocacy of or involvement in foreign political issues.” Mahmoud Hegab was hired as a budget analyst by the NGA in January of 2010 but had his clearance revoked in November, and the agency placed him on administrative leave. The agency provided Hegab with a statement citing the issue as being his wife’s work as a program associate “for a non-profit organization called ‘Islamic Relief’ which supports ‘humanitarian relief efforts.’” The agency also presented him with a photograph of his wife at an anti-war protest near the Washington Monument—from 2003, when she was 16 years old. A resident of Alexandria, Virginia, Hegab married Bushra Nusairat, a native of Fairfax, Virginia, after he took the NGA job but before his first day of work.  

Hegab’s lawyer views this case as discrimination against Hegab’s and Nusairat’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The lawyer, one Sheldon Cohen, couldn’t recall another instance of someone’s being denied security clearance because of a spouse’s involvement in an Islamic organization. During the Cold War, potential government employees were routinely rejected for security clearance if they had relatives in or from countries behind the Iron Curtain or if their spouses were involved with “communist or so-called fellow traveler organizations.” Another attorney told the Washington Post that federal agencies have turned down job applicants because they have family living in the Middle East or Afghanistan.

So let’s get this straight. On the one hand, Islamic Relief USA is respected enough to be a partner with the Department of Agriculture and with USAID in the Department of State. On the other hand, marrying someone from Islamic Relief is enough to get you denied a security clearance at NGA, which, because all of its 16,000 employees must have security clearances, is the equivalent to getting canned. Is this a tiny bit inconsistent or even hypocritical?—Rick Cohen