The terrorist watch list is such a fucking joke, except that no one who is on it is laughing about it. It’s not a bad idea in principle, but the fact that you aren’t allowed to know if you’re on the list (at least until you get yanked aside at an airport) and you have no means of challenging your inclusion on the list renders it ineffective and unnecessarily troublesome. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect of Soviet-era Russia and not the United States of America. All it seems to have accomplished so far is ruining the lives of innocent people.
Take, for example, this news item about an Gulf War veteran and professional pilot who’s about to lose his job because he’s on the list:
“We don’t know why they’re on the list. They don’t know why they’re on the list. The government won’t tell us why they’re on the list,” said Amy Foerster, an attorney with Saul Ewing, who is providing pro bono counsel and working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Schuylkill County couple on the case, which was filed in U.S. district court.
The suit filed against the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Justice and the FBI, among others, is “unique” because Erich Scherfen, a New Jersey native who converted to Islam in the mid-1990s, is a commercial airline pilot whose flight privileges were revoked in April, said Witold Walczak, the legal director of the state ACLU chapter. On Sept. 1, Scherfen will be terminated by his employer, Colgan Air, despite the airline’s cooperation.
“My livelihood depends on getting off this list,” Scherfen said. What list he is on and which government entity maintains it is unclear, Walczak said. The federal government has declined to acknowledge flight restrictions placed on the pilot.
Yes, the pilot is Muslim and his wife is Pakistani and the natural assumption would be those are the only reasons why they’d be included on the list. It’s entirely possible the government feels it has a valid reason other than his religion and his wife’s country of origin, but they won’t say what their reasoning is. The whole terrorist watch list needs to be seriously overhauled and that’s not going to happen if John McCain gets into office.
After reading this I stumbled across a similar story on CNN.com:
SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN)—James Robinson is a retired Air National Guard brigadier general and a commercial pilot for a major airline who flies passenger planes around the country.
He has even been certified by the Transportation Security Administration to carry a weapon into the cockpit as part of the government’s defense program should a terrorist try to commandeer a plane.
But there’s one problem: James Robinson, the pilot, has difficulty even getting to his plane because his name is on the government’s terrorist “watch list.”
That means he can’t use an airport kiosk to check in; he can’t do it online; he can’t do it curbside. Instead, like thousands of Americans whose names match a name or alias used by a suspected terrorist on the list, he must go to the ticket counter and have an agent verify that he is James Robinson, the pilot, and not James Robinson, the terrorist.
“Shocking’s a good word; frustrating,” Robinson—the pilot—said. “I’m carrying a weapon, flying a multimillion-dollar jet with passengers, but I’m still screened as, you know, on the terrorist watch list.”
He’s one of three people with that name that get screened all the time at airports:
[T]here’s the James Robinson who served as U.S. attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration; and James Robinson of California, who loves tennis, swimming and flying to the East Coast to see his grandmother.
The third-grader has been on the watch list since he was 5 years old. Asked whether he is a terrorist, he said, “I don’t know.”
Thank goodness the government is keeping us safe from all those terrorist five-year-olds! I feel SO much safer now. Meanwhile I’ve vowed not to fly in this country until they get this shit straightened out.
The sad part is that all three of these people have found a way around the problem. Just change their name slightly:
although the list is clearly bloated with misidentifications by every official’s account, CNN has learned that it may also be ineffective. Numerous people, including all three Robinsons, have figured out that there are ways not to get flagged by the watch list.
Denise Robinson says she tells the skycaps her son is on the list, tips heavily and is given boarding passes. And booking her son as “J. Pierce Robinson” also has let the family bypass the watch list hassle.
Capt. James Robinson said he has learned that “Jim Robinson” and “J.K. Robinson” are not on the list.
And Griffin has tested its effectiveness. When he runs his first and middle name together when making a reservation online, he has no problem checking in at the airport.
So not only is the watch list making life difficult for non-terrorists, but it’s also easily bypassed by a slight change of your name. What do you think the chances are of a terrorist using his real name to get on a plane these days anyway? In the meantime the airlines and the TSA are busy blaming each other and nothing gets fixed.
Thanks President Bush! Your legacy will live on for decades I’m sure. Shame it’s not something positive.