There’s Such A Thing As Casting Too Wide A Net

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

1,000,000?  Seriously?

The "terrorist" watch list now has more than one million names. Do you feel safer now?

Since February we’ve been tracking the size of our government’s list of ostensible terrorist suspects, which according to the government’s own report (pdf) has been rising at a rate of 20,000 per month.

Okay.  I know we live in a dangerous world, but there is no way in hell that there are 1,000,000 terrorists out there, unless you take an extremely broooooad view of what the word "terrorist" means.

Think of the terrible overbloated bureaucracy that must be behind this list.  The manpower and money that must have gone into making this list, and checking out whether these people really are terrorists must be absurdly enormous.  And it probably gives comfort to the real terrorists, knowing that they are now needles in the proverbial haystack.

There’s got to be a lot of false positives in there.  Just ask Akif Rahman, an American citizen who has been repeatedly detained, shackled, separated from his family, and interrogated at the U.S.-Canada border when traveling for his business.

What is even more troubling is that more than one million people are affected by this.  Take, for example, Robert Johnson.  Who is "Robert Johnson"?  Doesn’t matter.  ALL of the "Robert Johnson"s are inconvenienced (detained at the airport, etc.) because that’s one of the names on the terrorist list.

Seriously, can’t we take some of these names off relatively quickly?  Does Jim Robinson — a former assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at the Justice Department, who flies frequently and is often delayed for hours despite possessing a governmental security clearance — really need to be on this list?

Courtesy of the ACLU, here’s some of the people on the watch list.  Now, I realize people like you and me aren’t as terrorist-savvy as the brainiacs working in Homeland Security, but don’t you think some of these people on the watchlist can be, you know, NOT be there?

Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a household name all over the world, nonetheless is listed on the U.S. watchlist and needs special permission to enter the United States.

Robert Johnson60 Minutes interviewed 12 men named Robert Johnson, all of whom reported being pulled aside and interrogated, sometimes for hours, nearly every time they go to the airport.

Alexandra Hay, a college student with a double major in French and English at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2004, when she joined an ACLU lawsuit due to problems she was having with the airline watch list.

Sarosh Syed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan working for the ACLU of Washington in Seattle also had problems flying. (Syed was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004.)

9/11 Hijackers. While certainly these were individuals we all wish had been watched out for, they are, in fact, dead. Yet, the names of 14 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were on a copy of the list obtained by 60 Minutes . More evidence that the list is poorly maintained and full of junk names that will only serve to ensnare the innocent.

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. Name found on list obtained by 60 Minutes .

Saddam Hussein. Although he was imprisoned in Baghdad and in U.S. custody at the time, his name was also found in the database obtained by 60 Minutes. Again, this accomplishes nothing except ensnaring the innocent, diluting the list, and wasting the time of security workers.

Gary Smith. Another name that is extremely common in the United States, found on the no-fly list by 60 Minutes.

John Williams. Yet another common name found on the airline watch list by 60 Minutes.

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.) After repeated delays at airport security, the senator had trouble getting removed from the airline watch list despite calls to Homeland Security and eventually a personal conversation with the Secretary of DHS.

Representative John Lewis (D, Georgia). Being a hero of the Civil Rights Movement isn’t enough to keep off the aviation watch lists, apparently.

Akif Rahman, founder of a computer consulting company from suburban Chicago, was detained and questioned for more than two hours by U.S. customs officials on four separate occasions when crossing the Canadian border. On one occasion he was held for 5 ½ hours, shackled to a chair, and physically searched. He was also separated from his wife and children (who were forced to wait in a small dirty public area without food or telephones). A U.S. citizen born in Springfield Illinois, Rahman is being represented by the ACLU of Illinois in a lawsuit over this treatment.

Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown was blocked from flying while on his way home from an 8-month deployment in Iraq. He was listed as a suspected terrorist due to a previous incident in which gunpowder was detected on his boots, most likely a residue of a previous tour in Iraq.

Asif Iqbal, a Rochester, NY, management consultant and University of Texas graduate who flies weekly to Syracuse for business, has been weekly detained and interrogated by local law enforcement because his name is shared by a former Guantánamo detainee (who was himself released from the extrajudicial detainment, presumably because of lack of evidence of terror involvement).

James Moore, author of a book critical of the Bush Administration, Bush’s Brain ; problems flying.

Catherine ("Cat") Stevens, wife of Senator Ted Stevens (R, Alaska). Problems flying.  (NOTE:  This may sound bizarre that she is on the terrorist watch list, but I think a clue is provided in the entry below….)

Yusuf Islam, a singer and pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens. Author of song "Peace Train." His flight from London was diverted and forced to land in Maine once the government realized he was aboard, and he was barred from entering United States.

Major General Vernon Lewis (Ret.); a recipient of the Army’s highest medal for service, the Distinguished Service Medal who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, Lewis had problems flying.

Captain Robert Campbell, US Navy-retired, Comercial Airline pilot of 22 years; problems flying.

David Nelson. Attorney David C. Nelson (right) is one of many men named David Nelson around the U.S. who have been caught up on the list, including a former star of the television show "Ozzie and Harriet." (Nelson was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004).

John William Anderson, age 6; problems flying.

Among those caught up by the no-fly list are many infants and small children.

Rep. Don Young, (R, AK); problems flying.

Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary for education. Sister McPhee sought redress and removal from the watch list for nine months in 2004 and 2005 and it wasn’t until she was able to elicit help from White House connections (Karl Rove) that DHS addressed her problem.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, D-CA; problems flying.

Michelle Green, Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force . (Green was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004.)