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A Happy Ending, So Far

Nusrat Choudhury,
Former Legal Director, ACLU of Illinois
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July 27, 2010

Last week, we got some good news in the case of Adnan Tikvesa, an airline employee whose security clearance was unexpectedly suspended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) without any reason or reasonable opportunity for him to defend himself – leading Delta to suspend him without pay. After eight months of limbo, Mr. Tikvesa was finally permitted to return to work at Delta Airlines at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. His co-workers welcomed him back with a party.

The suspension happened in November 2009. This March, the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia appealed the TSA’s decision to suspend Adnan’s security clearance without telling him why and called on the agency to restore due process by telling him the reasons for the decision and giving him a real opportunity to respond. In May, the TSA finally reversed the suspension.

While Mr. Tikvesa is better off because of TSA’s reversal and Delta’s recent decision to reinstate him, the fundamental problems with TSA’s process have not gone away. TSA has never provided a reason for the agency’s initial decision to revoke Adnan’s security clearance or, for that matter, its reversal of that decision. Mr. Tikvesa is relieved to have his job back, but he remains confused as to why TSA took away his clearance in the first place.

We should all be troubled. Even though Adnan’s story has a happy ending, so far, we cannot determine whether there are now safeguards in place to protect Adnan (or anyone else) against arbitrary security clearance revocations. Our appeal on Adnan's behalf highlighted the lack of due process in TSA’s suspension and appeals process, but TSA has given no indication that it will act differently in the future by sharing the reasons for its security clearance decisions. Without that information, an individual’s hands are tied—he has no way to correct misinformation or to address the basis of a decision by TSA to suspend his security clearance in the first place.

We urge TSA to provide due process by refraining from suspending security clearances without affording the basis for such decisions or a meaningful way for people to defend themselves.

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