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No-fly listLawsuit charges the FBI used the no-fly list to recruit informants

Published 25 April 2014

A lawsuitfiled on Tuesday in a federal court in New York claims that the FBI threatened to keep Awais Sajjad on the no-fly list unless he agreed to work as an FBI informant. Sajjad, a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in New York, learned in September 2012 that he was on the no-fly list as he tried to board a flight to Pakistan at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Sajjad charges that FBI agents told him that unless he agreed to spy on local Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey, he would be kept on the no-flu list.

A lawsuit filed on Tuesday in a federal court in New York claims that the FBI threatened to keep Awais Sajjad on the no-fly list unless he agreed to work as an FBI informant. Sajjad, a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in New York, learned in September 2012 that he was on the no-fly list as he tried to board a flight to Pakistan at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and was turned away.

At the airport, FBI agents interrogated Sajjad before releasing him, but later offered Sajjad U.S. citizenship and compensation in exchange for working for the agents. The FBI reminded Sajjad that they had the power to keep him on the no-fly list, but he refused, andthe agents “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” according to the lawsuit.

The Washington Post reports that the lawsuit filed on behalf of Sajjad and three other men claims the United States violated their rights by placing or keeping them on the no-fly list after they reject offers to spy on local Muslim communities in New York, New Jersey, and Nebraska. “The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York. “The practice borders on extortion.”

The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project headed by Kassem and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of the four men.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2010 accusing the FBI of preventing Nagib Ali Ghaleb, a naturalized U.S. citizen, from returning to San Francisco from Yemen unless he became an informant and spied on the Yemeni community in California. A court decision is expected soon on whether his right to due process was violated.

Kassem insists that unlike the ACLU lawsuit, his cases “advances for the first time the unprecedented question about whether the FBI can infringe on their First Amendment rights by retaliating against them for not becoming informants.”

A former senior FBI official told the Post that refusing to work as a confidential informant for the FBI is not a criterion for being placed on the no-fly list. “That’s not a reason,” the former official said. “It has nothing to do with potential threats to aviation.”

A 2007 Justice Department audit found that “management of the watchlist continues to have weaknesses” and that the department needed “to further improve its efforts for ensuring the accuracy of the watchlist records.”

The New York Daily News notes that the plaintiffs in the New York case seek removal of their names from the no-fly list and the establishment of an appeal process to contest names on the no-fly list.