The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Beauty Pageants, National Security, and Pseudonymity


Jane Doe works for the Defense Intelligence Agency; when she was an intern at the DIA, she competed in the Miss United Nations pageant, but as Miss China; according to the Complaint in Doe v. Austin,

Uncertainty about her employment … led her to be a late entrant. By the time Ms. Doe entered the pageant, the representative for the United States had already been selected. The pageant organizers recommended that she participate as Miss China; the previous year's Miss China had been an American citizen, someone that Ms. Doe knew personally.

Ms. Doe agreed to participate as Miss China based on her heritage, not her nationality, paying all the participation expenses out of her own personal funds and accepting no money from any domestic or foreign entity. She did not win the competition.

Doe claims that (among other things) she was subject to higher scrutiny at the DIA because of this:

[T]wo days after her return from Jamaica [where she participated in the pageant], Defendant's security official … interrogated Ms. Doe about her trip to Jamaica, asked why Ms. Doe had wanted to enter the defense industry, and asked if Ms. Doe would sit for an Issue Specific Polygraph.

Ms. Doe agreed to the ISP. Ms. Doe stated that she had been on vacation, but did not mention the pageant for fear that she would be objectified in the workplace.

Six days later, security officials held another meeting with Ms. Doe, followed by another meeting four days after that.

At the [third] interview …, Defendant's security officials instructed Ms. Doe to provide the Defendant with an updated list of her foreign contacts, including social media contacts. However, agency guidelines for reporting social media contacts were not implemented at DIA until 2014.

Social media contacts were not required for all employees, and Ms. Doe's Caucasian colleagues who attended the same study abroad program at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center that Ms. Doe attended were not compelled by the Defendant to report their foreign social media contacts. Defendant enforced its guidelines arbitrarily and in a discriminatory manner towards Ms. Doe based on her race and national origin.

Following Ms. Doe's third [interview]…, Ms. Doe sought out [the security official] and informed her of the pageant and her participation as Miss China, explaining that such an activity was merely an extension of her prior passion for pageantry and an expression of her Chinese American identity.

[The official] angrily responded to Ms. Doe, chastising her for her participation. [The official] demanded that Ms. Doe write a Statement of Allegiance to the United States.

Defendant's insistence of taking and signing a Statement of Allegiance was part of a pattern of discriminatory, hostile and xenophobic actions by Defendant's employees that specifically held Asian and Heritage Americans to different standards than their White counterparts.

Defendant only required Statements of Allegiance for employees with dual citizenship, which did not even apply to Ms. Doe as she never held dual citizenship. Ms. Doe's citizenship prior to the U.S. had been with the United Kingdom, which she abandoned when she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Such a Statement of Allegiance for an American citizen with Chinese ancestry was borne out of the climate of paranoia and xenophobia prevalent in the workplace during this period that purposefully and knowingly held naturalized American citizens of Asian heritage, particularly Chinese Americans, to different and discriminatory standards.

Doe sued for discrimination and retaliation (again, based not just on the Statement of Allegiance but also based on other matters); the lawsuit is still in its early stages, but Monday Chief Judge Beryl Howell concluded that Doe could proceed pseudonymously, chiefly because:

[P]laintiff does not seek to proceed under pseudonym "merely to avoid … annoyance and criticism," but to "preserve privacy in a matter of [a] sensitive and highly personal nature." Plaintiff is not necessarily worried about the substance of her claims being released to the public—it is out of fear that a hostile foreign actor will find out that she worked for the DIA as an intelligence officer, preventing her from operating effectively in the defense industry and putting herself and her loved ones in immediate danger of retaliation, capture, ransom, abduction, or death. In addition, should her identity as a clandestine U.S. intelligence officer become known, this may put at risk persons with whom she came in contact while on government assignment. The risk that such information will be aired in public, and connected to plaintiff, often justifies the use of a pseudonym, such as in cases involving national security. See, e.g., Peary v. Goss (E.D. Va. 2005) (noting that plaintiff, a former CIA officer, "has adopted a pseudonym for the purpose of this litigation to preserve CIA operational security")….

Any general presumption in favor of open proceedings or public interest in disclosing plaintiff's identity is significantly outweighed by the highly sensitive nature of the information implicated and the personal security risk that plaintiff, her loved ones and other non-parties could face if the information were made public.