Pilot Sues Agencies After He is Deemed Security Threat

BOSTON (AP) -- A British citizen is suing federal authorities for deeming him a potential threat to national security and refusing to let him be trained to fly large planes.

Robert William Gray, 34, has been living in the United States since 1993 and has been flying small commercial planes since 1997. For the last four years, he has been flying for Cape Air, and has occasionally carried U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., on his flights.

Gray sought permission last fall from the Transportation Security Administration to take flight training courses so he could fly larger planes. But the TSA rejected his request, saying he poses a ''threat to aviation or national security.''

He was told only that the decision was based on derogatory information that the agency would not disclose because it was classified, Gray said.

He filed a federal lawsuit in Boston last week against the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, saying he thinks he is a victim of mistaken identity and wants the chance to clear his name.

In his lawsuit, Gray said the TSA did not explain the reason for his rejection, but did provide a printout from a U.S. Customs computer that indicated Gray was Hispanic. Gray, who was born in Belfast, is white.

Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for TSA, said she could not comment on Gray's case. She said since October the TSA has conducted security assessments of all non-U.S. citizens seeking flight training for aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.

Since terrorists used commercial jets in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government has reviewed all foreigners who apply for flight training.

''Obviously, the program was designed to prevent terrorists or other individuals who pose a threat to aviation or national security from receiving flight training,'' said Davis.

Gray had a job offer from a charter company to fly larger planes that was contingent on the TSA's approval of his request for training, according to his lawsuit.

When the TSA rejected his request, the agency sent notice of the denial to Cape Air and the charter company, Executive Fliteways Inc., damaging his reputation in the airline industry, he said in his lawsuit.

Gray appealed the decision to the TSA, saying he believed it was a case of mistaken identity. But after conducting a review, the TSA stood by its decision.

Michelle Haynes, director of communications for Cape Air, said Gray is a ''very qualified pilot, and we're happy to have him in our Cape Air family.''

Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who is helping to represent Gray, said he does not understand why he is being accused of being a threat to national security.

''If we really care about safety, we're not being made safer by rejecting people without letting them know what they're accused of,'' Wunsch said. ''The government makes mistakes.''