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USAF Fires Man for Visiting Iran

Source: Iran Times


An Iranian-American electronics engineer who became a citizen in 1987, was employed for 20 years by the Department of Defense and granted a secret security clearance, now says he will most likely lose his job because of several trips he took to Iran to visit his ailing mother.


Reza Rezaee, an electronics engineer at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia since 1991, told Georgia's Macon Telegraph that he would most likely lose his job within the next few days.  His fears don't stem from any solid evidence against him-his record shows no credible charges of misconduct or questionable loyalties-nor do they stem from reservations about his competence or performance-even the Defense Department agreed that he's been an above average employee.


But Rezaee is an Iranian national during a time when Iran has been labeled a member of the "Axis of Evil" for its reported support of terrorism and has had several international sanctions slapped on it for its controversial nuclear program.  It is because of Rezaee's connection with Iran, and several trips he took to his homeland over the past 22 years, that the University of Central Florida graduate fears the worst.


Rezaee believes his pending termination stems from unwarranted suspicions surrounding trips he took to care for his 90-year-old, nearly blind, mother and to visit other relatives.  Those suspicions caused the Air Force to pull his secret security clearance in 2005 and suspend him without pay in January.


Defense Department and Air Force documents obtained by the Telegraph indicate Rezaee's trips to Iran using his Iranian passport-seven visits since 1986-and trips by his wife, Fariba, have created what the military calls an indication of "foreign influence." Rezaee said he notified the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), the Air Force police and security force, before he made each trip and was routinely interviewed after he returned.


But Rezaee said that nobody explained to him the potential consequences of his trips to Iran.  "OSI interviewed me both before and after the fact.  At no time did anyone say that going to Iran might jeopardize my security clearance," he explained.


Rezaee said the whole ordeal has been devastating financially, professionally, socially and emotionally.


"Officials hide behind policy," Rezaee said during an interview with the Macon Telegraph. "Then they go home and sleep at night. They don't look at the human side. I haven't given them any reason to doubt me. I've had a security clearance since 1991 and now they suddenly have issues."


An April decision on Rezaee's appeal to the Defense Department's Office of Hearings and Appeals in Arlington, Virginia, upheld-at least in part-the previous Air Force ruling in the case.


"Protection of the national security is the paramount consideration," Administrative Law Judge Carol Ricciardello said in a 12-page document. "Therefore, any doubt concerning personnel being considered for access to classified information is resolved in favor of national security."


The Air Force also raised "foreign preference" and "personal conduct" allegations against Rezaee, but Ricciardello found no compelling evidence to substantiate those charges.


Rezaee's appeal to the Defense Department agency contained 20 letters of recommendation from Robins' supervisors, co-workers, and friends and neighbors in the middle Georgia community.


Ricciardello admitted that the documentation described Rezaee as "loyal, consistently professional" with a "high level of competence" and a "high level of integrity."  The judge further noted that Rezaee's annual appraisals "reflected that he consistently met expected standards and often exceeded the standards."


"None of the witnesses [at Rezaee's hearing] had any reservations about [his] holding a security clearance," said Ricciardello. Yet the defense official sustained the "foreign influence" ruling, concluding that Rezaee's overall record left her "with questions about his eligibility and suitability for a security clearance."


The veteran employee worked in a classified software facility at Robins, providing support for the F-15 fighter. The position calls for a security clearance, although Rezaee said he had not done classified work in years.


Dianne Suchan, director of the 402nd Software Maintenance Group at Robins, will make the final decision on his pending termination. Rezaee presented his appeal to her last week, but the 50-year-old said he expects the worst.


"I provided her a number of documents and asked to retain my job for a year so I can re-apply for a clearance.  She said she would study the paperwork and make a decision. But I doubt she will grant my request," he said.


Rezaee, father of two teenage daughters and a local youth soccer coach for 12 years, said the Air Force decision has left him with few financial options. His wife has taken a $9-an-hour job at Lowe's and he is drawing unemployment compensation.  But prospects for a new job are low; he has sent resumes to potential employers, but the government's pending action complicates any job interview.


"They don't understand why I lost my job after 20 years," Rezaee said. "It doesn't make sense to them. I was making $70,000 to $80,000 a year, and now I'm applying for a job making $30,000."


Rezaee explained that the action has cost him financially as well as emotionally and socially. He told the Macon Telegraph that an Iranian friend and co-worker has distanced himself. "He doesn't come to our house any more even though he knows I haven't done anything wrong," Rezaee said.


He said he has endured scrutiny for years from strangers. "For example, clearing customs at the airport in Atlanta often takes four or five hours," he said. "I don't have a problem with that. They don't know me. They're just following their rules."


But the situation at Robins is different. "[The leadership] here knows me," Rezaee said. "It's tough. They're afraid to back me up even though they know I haven't done anything wrong."


About Iran Times: The Iran Times is an independent newspaper with no affiliation with any political party or faction The Iran Times corporation was founded in Washington D.C. in 1970, in accordance with U.S. federal and local regulations:

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