Error-laden ‘No Fly’ list continues to grow

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The Obama White House has announced altered rules for identifying which passengers flying within the United State should face extra scrutiny at gates. Initially, civil liberties groups cautiously praised the administration’s decision to abandon using nationality alone as a basis for additional screening. However, it quickly became apparent that the changes could actually result in ethnic profiling, since travelers can now be stopped if they match a suspect’s general physical description (even if security officials don’t have a suspect’s name).

Setting aside the public relations fiascos caused by profiling, and allegations that the practice doesn’t even work, the really disturbing part of Obama’s security recalibration is that the error-laden and highly secretive “No Fly” and suspect screening lists will most likely expand.

“The entire federal government is leaning very far forward on putting people on lists,” Russell E. Travers, a deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said at a recent Senate hearing. Before the attempted attack on Christmas, Mr. Travers said, “I never had anybody tell me that the list was too small.”

Now, he added, “It’s getting bigger, and it will get even bigger.”

Right. That’s the problem with secret lists. If people can’t be told they’re on a watch list, they can’t challenge their automatic “guilty” verdicts. That’s how children and hysterectomy survivors end up on the watch lists. That’s why people, who are guilty of nothing except sharing a name picked up in some chatter from who knows where, are handcuffed — some might say terrorized — searched, and jailed. If they’re really lucky, they get out of jail without being tortured, wait a year, and then get a letter from the government saying, “Our bad”.

I’m aware the civil liberties angle isn’t likely to win the hearts and minds of many conservatives, but even from a national security perspective, this approach is ridiculously flawed. For starters, the government isn’t capable of processing all of the intel it receives right now.

In this very informative interview with Democracy Now, author and staff correspondent for National Journal, Shane Harris, explains that spying on US citizens has become easier and legal, and the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s national security strategy. However, setting aside the obvious civil liberties violations created by government-led spying campaigns, Harris argues panoptic spying programs make it much harder to identify actual dangers.

That’s when the gubment starts locking up hysterectomy survivors and accusing boy scouts of being terrorists.

The Obama administration’s solution to this over-saturation of intel appears to be…adding more clutter, and expanding the size of lists. Oh, they also want to bring back the Bush era’s hallmark: hysterical accusations.

A task force formed after the Christmas Day episode is considering changes to the process, including making it easier to label suspects extremists and giving greater weight to credible “single-source walk-ins,” the [federal official involved in the security process] said.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t appear to have learned its lesson about relying on single-source walk-ins. One tip, say from a disgruntled ex-boyfriend, or bitter neighbor, or a racist neighborhood vigilante — who wants to take back his country from them dirty Muslims — could result in an investigation, which could quickly end with more innocents being added to ever-ballooning lists.

And perhaps someone should very clearly define what “suspicious behavior” looks like. Citizens, unlike police authorities, are not trained to recognize abnormal behavioral “tells”. This was my main complaint with the LAPD’s creepy Orwellian campaign to have Californians spy on one another.  These kinds of mass spying drives inevitably end up isolating the very communities police had hoped to access.

Bad intel clutters and jams the system. Bad intel turns citizens against each other, and the cops, but what it does not do is free up the intelligence community to monitor actual threats. In the worst case scenarios, bad intel fosters resentment towards the state, which has mistreated a vulnerable sect by monitoring and harassing them. Instead of winning over moderates, the states ends up cultivating extremism.

The Times details some of the “suspicious behavior” detailed by cooperatives, which advise landlords to “be alert for tenants who prefer ground-floor apartments and have little furniture.” If those are the only guidelines, I would be in jail — not because I’m a terrorist — but because I’m poor and hate stairs. Other guidelines: “immersion in a purely Muslim environment” and “the study of technical subjects.” If any poor Muslim nerds are reading this sentence: RUN! RUN NOW!

The terrible outcomes that can (and usually do) emerge from such general profiling should be obvious, but I highly recommend reading the entire Times article if only to gape at some of the horrible results.

The most outrageous moment of Ibrahim’s (the hysterectomy survivor’s) case came when her attorney raised the question if inclusion on the no-fly list is sufficient grounds for arrest.

At a hearing last December, government lawyers agreed that it was not, although the courts generally allow brief detentions for investigative purposes.

The police, as part of their defense, offered to explain why they detained Ms. Ibrahim, but the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security refuse to allow it.

Now, why would they refuse to allow it? Perhaps it has something to do with the vague “national security” default response. But there’s also this:

The police in San Francisco said they had acted on the instructions of a contractor working for the Homeland Security Department.

What contractor? Also, why is homeland security using private contractors? Furthermore, why is this contractor giving orders to the police? While we’re at it, why are private contractors allowed to give orders to lock up people?

It’s difficult to get these answers when the cops can’t provide answers, and no one can ever question The List.

Link to this article:

– Allison Kilkenny


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