- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

After his license to transport hazardous materials was withdrawn on national security grounds, Bilal Mahmud found himself trapped in a situation of not knowing what he was suspected of having done, or by whom.

“When the letter arrived, I thought, ‘This has got to be a mistake,’” said Mr. Mahmud, who lives in Atlanta and made his living as a truck driver.

The July 30, 2004, letter from the Transportation Security Administration informed him that the endorsement on his commercial driver’s license that entitled him to haul hazardous materials was being withdrawn forthwith, because they were not available to people the agency “determines or suspects … of being a threat to national security, transportation security or terrorism.”

Despite declining to provide any details of their suspicions, the administration ” an agency inside the Department of Homeland Security ” did offer him the chance to try to clear his name, by submitting comprehensive histories of everywhere he had lived and worked in the past five years.

Mr. Mahmud said he is a law-abiding citizen.

“Nor is there anything in his background that might be a cause for concern,” adds his attorney, Zenobia Carter.

Mr. Mahmud, who fought in a Marine reconnaissance unit during the Vietnam War, once held a top-secret security clearance. He openly discusses his conversion to Islam and his work at the al-Faruk mosque in Atlanta, which he said is a nonpolitical organization with no connection to terrorism.

“There’s nothing that makes sense about this situation,” he said.

Mr. Mahmud’s case is one of many that has led to criticism of the Department of Homeland Security for not providing an effective means of redress for those mistakenly identified and denied licenses, the right to work in a port or even to board an airplane.

The department runs more than a dozen programs that check against terrorist watch lists the names of foreign visitors to the country, would-be workers at airports and seaports and those who wish to board or fly planes.

But as it moves ahead with plans to centralize these initiatives, officials said even the basic principles for a mechanism those wrongly identified as terrorist threats can use to clear their names have not been set down.

Mr. Mahmud was eventually cleared at the end of December, too late to save his job, which was reliant on his license. He said he has found other work, and has no plans to return to truck driving.

Cases like Mr. Mahmud’s are difficult, officials say, because the consolidated terrorist watch list is maintained not by the agency making the decisions, but by the FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center.

“We don’t hold the derogatory information,” the center’s Deputy Director Rick Koppel said. “All we have is the names.”

To find out why an individual might have been placed on a watch list, he said center officials would have to reach back to the “nominating agency,” which is often focused on protecting its intelligence and its source.

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