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"Cape pilot listed as security risk"



Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cape pilot listed as security risk
By ERIC GERSHON
The Cape Cod (MA) Times


Federal aviation officials could not explain yesterday why a Cape Air pilot
they consider a security threat is still allowed to fly.

In January, the Transportation Security Administration rejected pilot Robert
Gray's request for permission to learn to fly larger planes, saying he posed
a ''threat to aviation or national security,'' documents filed this month in
federal court show.

But neither TSA nor the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses
pilots, has notified Cape Air of any changes in Gray's status as a fully
licensed pilot, according to airline officials.

Cape Air stands by its pilot of four years, a British citizen born in
Belfast, Northern Ireland, who continues to fly for the Hyannis-based
airline.

Gray passed the airline's own background check in 2001 and ''is currently an
employee in good standing,'' Cape Air Vice President for Operations Larry
Gualtieri said.

Meanwhile, Gray, 34, has filed a lawsuit against TSA in U.S. District Court
in Boston. He seeks a reversal of the agency's ruling and a retraction of
its statement that he represents a security threat.

The pilot and his Boston lawyers say TSA has failed to cite ''a single
fact'' in support of its claim, violating Gray's constitutional right of due
process.

And without knowing the evidence against him or its sources, they say, Gray
has no way of defending himself against what may be a case of mistaken
identity.

''The main issue is not him, it's the government,'' said Sarah Wunsch, a
lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and a member of the Gray's
legal team.

Ann Davis, the TSA's spokeswoman in Boston, would not comment yesterday on
Gray's case. Agency policy prohibits discussion of pending litigation, she
said.

Davis also said she could not explain the logic that would allow a pilot
deemed a security risk by TSA to remain in the skies.

But, she said, ''TSA does have an obligation to pass along any information
we acquire in a security assessment to other federal agencies, including the
FAA.''

TSA has said its assessment of Gray as a security threat was based on
''derogatory information,'' which has not been disclosed.

Davis said she did not know whether the information had, in this case, been
shared with FAA, or what that agency might do with it.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters also said he couldn't explain the apparently
contradictory views of Gray held by TSA and his agency.

''I don't know,'' he said. ''This is something I haven't dealt with before.
It's a new world. They keep amending and changing details at TSA.''

In November 2004 Gray applied to TSA for permission to train on aircraft
larger than Cape Air's 8,000-pound Cessnas, according to court documents.
Gray had been offered a job by a New York-based private air charter firm,
Executive Fliteways, which primarily flies jets in excess of 12,500 pounds.

Under federal policies adopted since the Sept. 11 attacks, foreign nationals
may only attend U.S. flight schools with the blessing of the Department of
Homeland Security. The Department of Justice initially conducted background
checks on applicants, but TSA assumed this duty last October.

The agency expects to receive an estimated 35,000 applications annually,
Davis said, and to reject about one percent.

In January 2005 TSA notified Gray by e-mail that he had failed the security
check.

''Based upon materials available to TSA, which I have personally reviewed, I
have determined that you pose a threat to aviation or national security,''
wrote Tim Upham of TSA's Office of Transportation Vetting and Credentialing.
A copy of the e-mail is included in court documents.

Executive Fliteways subsequently withdrew Gray's job offer.

A partially redacted document later obtained from TSA by Gray's lawyers
identifies Gray as Hispanic and omits two of his middle names, evidence they
use to support their theory Gray has been mistaken for someone else.

Gray is not Hispanic, according to his lawyers. His full name is Robert
William George Mulryne Gray.

Gray did not respond to a message left yesterday at his West Yarmouth
address.

Like TSA and FAA officials, Wunsch, Gray's ACLU lawyer, could not explain
why one federal agency would allow him to fly while the other considered him
an aviation security threat.
 
''It doesn't make sense,'' she said. ''My fear is, when you ask that
question of the government, they will decide, 'We should go after him.'''

Gray's suit was filed July 8. TSA has not yet replied, Wunch said. 

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