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Standing up and Saying NO to Loss of Liberties--the Fight Against HSPD-12

JPL Employees File Suit to End Background Investigations

Press Release

JPL Employees File Suit to End Background Investigations
Twenty-Eight Senior Scientists and Engineers at JPL File Suit Against United States Government and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Challenging NASA's Unconstitutional Requirement of Invasive Background Investigations

Press Conference: Thursday, August 30, 2007, 10:00 a.m. at Hadsell & Stormer, Inc., 128 N. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103

Re: Nelson, et al. v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, et al.

Pasadena, CA — August 30, 2007 — Twenty-eight senior scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL is a part of Caltech) have filed suit today in United States District Court for the Central District of California against NASA, the Department of Commerce and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on behalf of a class of JPL employees who are being required to waive their privacy rights and submit to an unconstitutional intrusive background investigation in order to retain their jobs with JPL. The plaintiffs include highly placed engineers and research scientists at JPL who have been involved in critical roles in NASA's most successful recent programs, including leading engineers and scientists on the Mars Exploration Rovers program. All are long term employees of Caltech who have never had to submit to the incredibly intrusive check that the Bush Administration desires. None of the plaintiffs have classified or sensitive positions. Plaintiffs challenge Bush's decision to require that all JPL employees submit to a "National Agency Check with Inquiries" and sign a broad written waiver, permitting investigators to obtain records from their past employment files, and to question their friends and associates about their emotional health, financial integrity, and general conduct, including whether they've ever had sex and, if so, what type.

NASA has implemented this intrusive program as part of a 2004 Executive Order (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12)) issued by President Bush, which requires that all federal agencies and facilities institute an identification badge. The plaintiffs are not employed by the Federal Government, but still have been informed that if they do not comply with the background investigation process by September 28, 2007, they will be deemed to have voluntarily terminated their employment with Caltech as of October 27, 2007.

In their lawsuit, plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction against implementation of these new background investigation requirements. Plaintiffs will file the formal papers in support of the preliminary injunction on August 30, 2007.

"This is another egregious example of the Bush Administration's assault on the Constitution. Our clients are exemplary employees who have spent their work lives bettering this Country. This attack on their right to privacy will not be tolerated," said Dan Stormer of Hadsell & Stormer. "This unlawful requirement allows unknown government officials to ask all manner of questions about people's personal lives, including their sex lives and emotional state. It is exceptionally broad and completely unnecessary," said Virginia Keeny, a partner at Hadsell & Stormer.

Several senior JPL scientists and engineers will be present at the press conference and available to the press at that time.

These JPL participants will be at the Press Conference at the offices of Hadsell and Stormer on August 30, 2007, commencing at 10:00 a.m.:

1. Dennis Byrnes is JPL Chief Engineer for Flight Dynamics. He is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award and is an internationally recognized expert on Astrodynamics. He has worked on NASA projects since 1968 (Apollo).

"This is something straight out of the 1950's McCarthy era. The 'suitability criteria' are so broad that investigators could use them to get rid of anyone they want. If the money wasted to investigate current trusted government employees and contractors were instead spent to make the government facilities more secure, we would all be much safer.

2. Robert M. Nelson is a Senior Research Scientist at JPL and is an elected member of the JPL Senior Research Scientists Council. He has been a Principal Investigator on NASA research programs for three decades. He was selected by NASA to be a member of the Cassini Saturn Orbiter Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer Team and as the Project Scientist of NASA's Deep Space 1 Mission. He has authored numerous academic papers on topics involving the spectrophotometric properties of planets, asteroids and planetary satellites and has served on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia of Planetary Sciences. He has served as Chairman of the largest division of the American Astronomical Society-it's Division for Planetary Sciences and has received numerous NASA related citations and awards including a NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

"If all the citizens of Manhattan had been fingerprinted and subjected to invasive background investigations, the horrible events of 9/11 would still have happened. HSPD- 12 does not address the real danger, it is merely a palliative that creates the sensation of security in the face of a great danger. It has no more value than taking aspirin to cure lung cancer."

3. Varoujan Gorjian is astronomer who has been at JPL for 9 years doing research on black holes and the star formation history of the universe as well as doing public outreach to high schools.

"How many talented scientists and engineers will NASA and JPL lose because reputable scientists will not submit to intrusive government searches of their personal lives. Compromising the rights of people who study planets, stars, and galaxies does not increase our security here on earth."

4. Zareh Gorjian is a Member of Technical Staff in the Modeling, Simulation and Visualization Group. He has been producing animations for public outreach for a variety of NASA missions, such as Galileo, Mars Pathfinder, Cassini, the Mars Exploration Rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. He has never been involved in any secret or classified work. He has been employed at JPL for the past 17 years.

"By signing this supposed 'voluntary waiver' I'm giving government investigators or whomever they designate the right to look into all areas of my private life. I was at JPL during the cold war when we were fighting the Soviet Union which had the power not only to end all life in the U.S. but the entire planet! We were able to defeat them without resorting to such intrusive tactics."
5. Susan Foster has been employed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since she was 18 years old. For ten years, she served in clerical and secretarial positions in a technical division. Since 1978, she has been a technical editor and technical writer, responsible for preparing and producing administrative, technical, and scientific documents for internal, NASAwide, and public distribution. During her nearly 40 years at JPL she received many commendations for her accomplishments and contributions, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the prestigious Spaceflight Awareness Award.

"Instead of enhancing homeland security, the government is using 9/11 as justification to control American citizens and invade their privacy. I cannot in good conscience participate in this assault on our civil liberties and the reckless use of precious homeland security dollars. My country is on a treacherous and slippery slope, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make a strong and lawful stand against this assault on the Constitution of the United States."

Relevant background documents are available below.

Contact: Dan Stormer
Virginia Keeny
Hadsell and Stormer (626) 585-9600

Reference Documents
* Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, August 2004
* Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) Publication 201-1, "Personal Identity Verification of Federal Employees and Contractors," March 2006
* Standard Form 85
* Sample written inquiry form sent to references of investigation subject
* Office of Personnel Management's "Issue Characterization Chart", also known as the federal employment "Suitability Matrix"
* Letter from Gordon H. Mansfield, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to Joshua Bolten, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, May 9, 2005
* Letter from Nelson et al. to Congressmen Holt and Ehlers
* Letter from Robert M. Nelson to Congressman Schiff, March 17, 2007
* Letter from Dennis V. Byrnes to Congressman Dreier, April 7, 2007
* Letter from Congressman Holt to Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, May 21, 2007
* Response from William Jeffrey, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to Congressman Holt
* Response from Michael D. Griffin, NASA Administrator, to Congressman Adam Schiff

Source URL: http://www.hspd12jpl.org/press.html

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