18 Months in Prison for Making False Statements

An Air Force man thought the September 11 attacks were a “beautiful sight” and that the US deserved to be attacked. He ended up as a baggage screener with TSA but did not disclose his “near seditionist behavior” that led to an early discharge from the military. His appeal of his prison sentence is not convincing to a federal court.

A federal appeals court recently affirmed the criminal conviction of a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screener for making false statements related to his background investigation when he was first hired by the agency. (United States of America v. Ahmed, C.A.6th Cir. No. 05-2319, 12/29/06).

Sadeq Ahmed was indicted on two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(2) by making false statements in written answers he gave about his employment history. He was tried by jury and found guilty on both counts. The district court sentenced him to 18 months in prison. He failed to convince the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction and the sentence. (Opinion pp. 1-2) The following facts are as related by the court’s decision.

While in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Ahmed documented his support of Usama bin Laden in early 2001. He defended bin Laden and accused the U.S. of terrorism in connection with its use of the atomic bomb at the end of WWII, its bombing of Iraqi civilians, its sanctions on Iraq, and its support for the ‘terrorist state” of Israel. He made clear to his U.S. military superiors that if the country again found itself in a war with Iraq that he Ahmed would join the fight on the side of Iraq. He was also open about discussing the prospect of killing U.S. soldiers should the country get into a conflict that went against Ahmed’s religious beliefs.

When the events of September 11 unfolded later that year, Ahmed told his fellow servicemen that he was happy, that he felt the attacks were a “beautiful sight,” and that the U.S. deserved to be attacked because it supports Israel.

At this point, Ahmed’s chain of command got involved and suspended his access to classified material and to the restricted areas where he worked. Things happen fast in the military. By the end of September 2001, Ahmed received an early discharge from the U.S. military. This was by mutual agreement. His final performance documents called his off duty conduct “unacceptable” and referred to Ahmed’s “disloyal, near seditionist behavior.” (p. 3)

Apparently the “near seditionist behavior” did not get picked up when Ahmed was hired by a private company to screen baggage and passengers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. But, when TSA took over the screening functions, Ahmed was conditionally transferred to the agency pending satisfactory completion of a security background investigation.

Ahmed completed the required Office of Personnel Management paperwork. He failed to disclose the problems with the military. Notably, he checked “no” when asked if he had had clearance or access authorization denied, suspended or revoked. He checked “no” when asked if he had ever left a job by mutual agreement or otherwise after learning of performance problems.

These two “no” answers constituted the two counts of Ahmed’s eventual indictment and conviction. (p. 3)

In his appeal, Ahmed tried to persuade the court that either his answers were “literally true,” or that the questions were so vague that they could not be used to pin him with making false statements. Since he was honorably discharged from the military he was correct to deny there were any “unfavorable circumstances” surrounding his discharge.

Calling Ahmed’s argument “unavailing,” the appeals court makes short work of the case and affirms the conviction. (p. 4)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.