Senators Inquire on Homeland Appointee

Two senators chairing committees with direct oversight of intelligence and terrorist-related issues have asked the chief internal watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security (search) to investigate the appointment of a top director at the agency and his brief suspension from it.

Faisal Gill (search) was forced to take a few days off in March after sources close to the FBI raised flags about Gill's former position as spokesman for the now-defunct American Muslim Council (search). He was then reinstated, and Republican Sens. Charles Grassley (search) of Iowa and Jon Kyl (search) of Arizona want to know why. They also are questioning why Gill is at DHS in the first place.

Sources described Gill's position at Homeland Security as director of policy for intelligence but a DHS spokesman called to say his official title is special assistant to the undersecretary for the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate.

Grassley and Kyl sent a letter dated Monday to Clark Kent Ervin, DHS inspector general, requesting answers to a number of questions regarding Gill, who served in 2001 as the spokesman for the AMC, whose founder just pleaded guilty to federal indictments related to illegal foreign financing and immigration fraud, and admitted to a role in a Libyan assassination plot.

Click here to read the letter written by Sens. Grassley and Kyl (pdf).

Aside from questioning whether this connection raised concerns among officials before Gill was hired, the letter draws attention to reports that Gill had omitted his affiliation with the AMC when he filed his employment application and requisite security clearances at the agency.

"Questions have been raised about Mr. Gill’s previous associations with groups and individuals who are known or suspected to be involved with terrorism financing," the letter reads.

"Mr. Gill is reportedly director of intelligence policy in the Department’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) directorate," the senators wrote. "A person in such a position would likely have access to highly sensitive information about vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructure."

The senators then ask: "What is the department’s policy for employees who omit information, especially information considered important or material, from their security clearance background forms?

"What are the Department’s general policies and procedures for considering employment of a person with previous links or associations to individuals or groups who are investigated or prosecuted for suspected crimes, especially terrorism matters or, who provides services to such individuals or groups?"

Grassley, who is the chair of the Finance Committee, which is investigating terrorist funding streams, refused further comment on the letter Tuesday.

Kyl, who chairs the Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was also unavailable for comment.

Gill has repeatedly refused calls and e-mails for comment.

A senior Homeland Security spokesman told on Thursday that Gill was "thoroughly vetted at several levels. Mr. Gill did not withhold information on government forms required to initiate government security clearance processing and has been cooperative throughout the process."

The spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that Gill was suspended pending a more thorough background check. But the spokesman said department officials "went to great lengths to investigate his background and ensure there were no potential conflicts or inappropriate activities in relation to Mr. Gill."

To read the full Homeland Security statement, click here.

Sources told in July that Gill’s defenders in and outside of the agency claim that he listed on his applications AG Consulting Group, a firm that farmed out Gill to work with AMC and other groups. Shortly afterward, Gill's name began appearing on the group’s press releases.

The senators point out in their letter that the principal lobbyist and operator of AG Consulting, Asim Ghafoor, has in the past worked with groups like the Global Relief Foundation (search), whose assets were frozen by the U.S. government in December 2001 because of terrorist-related concerns.

Meanwhile, AMC’s founder, Abdurahaman Alamoudi, pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal court in July to charges ranging from illegally receiving cash from Libyan sources to tax evasion and passport fraud. He also admitted to being part of a Libyan plot to kill Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Court documents call Alamoudi an active supporter of Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has deemed a terrorist organization.

The senators' letter asks the watchdog office not only to answer a series of questions about Gill, but also to report back with the "practices, policies and procedures for handling internal security matters with its employees."

Reports about Gill have invigorated a smoldering debate among Republicans, some who say the administration has been too accepting of certain representatives of Muslim groups with dubious ties to terror funding and anti-American sympathies. Others say going after Muslims like Gill is akin to a political witch hunt.

According to a former federal counterterrorism official who asked not to be named, Gill had a brief non-defense/intelligence-related background with the federal government after graduating from law school and joining the Naval Reserves in 1997.

Press releases available on the Internet also show Gill quoted as a vice chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee in Northern Virginia, a post he apparently no longer holds, as well as treasurer of the Prince William Taxpayers' Alliance in 2003.

Gill, 32, also worked with the Islamic Free Market Institute, which was co-founded by prominent Republican activist and lobbyist Grover Norquist and Khaled Saffuri, who also worked as AMC's government affairs director.

A lot of these groups work together for a common cause, like promoting Muslim-American understanding, or civil liberties for immigrants, say defenders, who complain that they are disparaged because a few within their ranks have been corrupted. They say people like Gill are the victims of guilt by association.

"I don’t think working for an organization like the AMC in of itself is a bad thing," said Kit Gage, president of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (search), whose founder, Sami Al-Arian is awaiting trial on charges he was a prime fundraiser for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an accusation he vehemently denies. Gage said the group has distanced itself from Al-Arian.

"There are always going to be people who are racist, who are anti-Muslim and feel threatened by groups like ours who do coalition work, because we stand up for groups that have taken on unpopular positions," she added.

Nevertheless, Grassley and Kyl want to know what Department of Homeland Security officials knew about Gill’s background before they hired him and whether they were working with experts within the government who had knowledge of the intricate web of Muslim charity groups and terrorist financers before they brought Gill on board. Also, they want to know what qualifications Gill has for the job.

"Moreover," their letter states, "it is crucial that DHS have full and accurate information about the background of its employees so that it can judge whether their work for the department does not present any threats to security."