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Why Is "Walter Murphy" on the No-Fly List?:
Over at Balkinization, Mark Graber posts a story from Walter Murphy, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Princeton (and the author of one of my favorite books, Wiretapping on Trial), about having his name appear on the No-Fly List. As I understand it, being put on the list doesn't mean that you can't fly; rather, it means that you have to speak to a supervisor and get individual clearance before getting a boarding pass. Professor Murphy writes that he discovered he was on the list when flying to Princeton for a conference last month about his new book.

  Professor Murphy believes that he has been singled out because he gave a speech at Princeton last year criticizing the Bush Administration. He concludes that he is being harassed, and he wants this episode to be publicized to draw attention to the Administration's conduct:
That harassment is, in and of itself, a flagrant violation not only of the First Amendment but also of our entire scheme of constitutional government. This effort to punish a critic states my lecture's argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could. Further, that an administration headed by two men who had "had other priorities" than to risk their own lives when their turn to fight for their country came up, should brand as a threat to the United States a person who did not run away but stood up and fought for his country and was wounded in battle [Ed: Professor Murphy served in the Marines in the Korean War], goes beyond the outrageous. . . . . Thus I hope you and your colleagues will take some positive action to bring the Administration's conduct to the attention of a far larger, and more influential, audience than I could hope to reach.
  The post is certainly bringing the story to a larger audience; just a few hours after the story was posted, it has already drawn links from Atrios and Crooks and Liars.

  The question is, why was the name "Walter Murphy" on the list? The Bush Administration has a lot of harsh critics; if being a harsh critic were enough to end up on the No-Fly list, wouldn't we have heard about it sooner? Professor Murphy's primary evidence that he was singled out for his speech is that when he mentioned it as a possible reason to an American Airlines clerk, the clerk responded "that'll do it." I wonder, though, would the airline clerk know? Perhaps, as the clerk apparently professed a lot of knowledge as to who gets on the No-Fly list. On the other hand, how much do you trust an airline clerk about something like this?

  I'm also reminded of when Senator Kennedy's name ended up on the No-Fly list back in 2004. Based on news reports at the time, Kennedy's name wasn't on the list to harass Senator Kennedy. Rather, a suspected terrorist had at one point used an alias of "T. Kennedy," and the name was then entered into the database. I wonder, did something like that happen here?
Informant (mail):
The Bush Administration has a lot of harsh critics; if being a harsh critic were enough to end up on the No-Fly list, wouldn't we have heard about it sooner?

Uh, gee Prof. Kerr, you mean like this?

http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/6/3520

[OK Comments: Thanks for the link, Informant. Do you have more links other than this one and the one below? The one below is more interesting than this one, as it mentions beliefs/fears that he No-Fly list is targeting activists (although it's not clear how this applies to Murphy, who is not an activist). Has there been anything on this since 2003/2004, when these stories were published? Murphy's talk was in 2006, and he was on the list last month.]
4.9.2007 2:02am
Informant (mail):
Or like this?

http://dir.salon.com/story/news/ feature/2003/07/25/no_fly/print.html (remove space to make the link work)
4.9.2007 2:06am
Cornellian (mail):
If in fact he's on the list because some suspect once used his name as an alias, shouldn't there be some process for reviewing that and removing the real Walter Murphy? Is he destined to be on a no-fly list for years? decades? The rest of his life? It seems right out of Kafka to be on a no-fly list with no way to get off it, or even to determine why you ended up on it in the first place.
4.9.2007 2:13am
dvorak:
I hate to admit, his use of the chickenhawk argument prevents me from having any concern that it takes him an extra half hour to board a plane.

I also think he needs to pick a different Amendment.
4.9.2007 2:14am
OrinKerr:
Cornellian -- the WaPo story on Kennedy talks about how Kennedy's name was taken off.
4.9.2007 2:15am
Informant (mail):
Or like this?

http://buffaloreport.com/2004/040415.radack.nofly.html

I can easily find several dozen more of these accounts. (And who knows how many people don't discuss their experience in a way that results in it ending up on-line?) Now I don't believe this is being done on a systematic basis, but Prof. Kerr's, "Golly gee, who ever heard of such a thing?" routine is either disingenuous or a prime example of head-in-the-sandism.

[OK Comments: Informant, this example seems pretty weak; Radack was selected for extra inspection sveeral times, and she is guessing that this is because she is on a special list. She is not on the no-fly list, though, and her evidence for being on a special list seems pretty light based on the story.]
4.9.2007 2:16am
OrinKerr:
Informant,

I have a comment to your first comment above asking for more information; it hasn't appeared yet because the VC software is really slow right now, and is taking about 5 minutes for new material to appear. [Actually, turns out I just forgot to 'approve' my comment; it's up there now.] Pleas keep the links coming-- I hadn't heard of this, so I'm interested in hearing more about these allegations.
4.9.2007 2:19am
dvorak:
HuffPo may offer some info, but the s3 link in the post doesn't work.

Given a choice between incompetent government and evil-Bush-seeking-revenge, I think I'm going to go with the former.
4.9.2007 2:25am
Informant (mail):
4.9.2007 2:31am
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Yeah. One of the things that's easy to forget (really - particularly when your local phone book has only a few thousand number in it, unlike, say, Manhattan...) is that there are something more than 300 million people in this country. So I suspect that there are a number - probably more than one might expect - of "Walter Murphys" in the country, and if they (the ubiquitous, iniquitous "they") are going to hold up Edward M. Kennedy (or does he sign checks as "T. Kennedy?") on the basis of "T. Kennedy," well, sooner or later most of us are going to get nailed. I would think that the TSA people would add a few more lines of data (like age, address, etc.) to their list, but I suppose that the TSA union - or hasn't that gone into effect yet? - would object on the basis that such efficiency would cost their members jobs....
4.9.2007 2:34am
Informant (mail):
And another link (I will admit that "Kiko" Martinez's criminal background probably counts as a "plus factor" for putting him on the No Fly list, on the other hand he was acquitted or otherwise cleared of all charges):

http://www.alternet.org/story/47089/
4.9.2007 2:37am
James968 (mail):
Isn't the fact the "we don't know why someone is put on the list" wrong. (Something about the right to 'see the evidence against you and the confront witnesses').

[OK Comments: I don't know why I seem to be responding to every comment, but I don't think it's so weird that we don't know why someone is on the list. Imagine a case with a real terrorist. Is the American Airlines agent supposed to say, "Sir, it says here that you're on the list because you're a member of an Al Qaeda cell under close FBI surveillance"? As for the right to see evidence against you & confront witnesses, that right is a right when you are charged with a crime in court. It doesn't apply to having to talk to a supervisor to get a boarding pass.]
4.9.2007 2:53am
ChePibe (mail):
This is the second time I've heard this issue brought up in the past week.

The first person who brought it up was one of my political science professors, whose primary area of study is terrorism. He has not traveled to any "high risk" countries, has no political or other ties with groups that would cause him problems and there are no other factors that he can think of (and he'd likely know) that would get his name on the list. To top it off, he's a Republican and supporter of the Iraq War.

Yet his name is there on the list, and every single time he flies, he knows he will go through extra scrutiny. It turns out that someone with his same name (which is fairly common) somehow got on the list, but he got lucky in that he also happens to be at least 30 years younger than the individual using this name on the list. The extra scrutiny, according to him, mostly consists of a supervisor looking at a monitor (at what one would assume would be a picture or description of the individual in question), chuckling a bit, and sending him through without further problems. The professor in question now actually alerts the clerk at the counter when he steps up, which speeds up the process of getting the supervisor and all that.

My money would be on a similar problem for the person in question here. Walter Murphy must be a fairly common name, and although most assume that only "foreign" or "Arab" names would be on the list (an astounding show of racism, in my opinion), many perfectly "domestic" names end up on there as well. I'll agree that the system should be put together better, but this author seems a bit too eager to put it all on a sinister motive when one simply may not exist.
4.9.2007 2:57am
llamasex (mail) (www):
I am actually on the same boat a Orin. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Apparently the airline rep at the gate told him that activists are being targeted. I don't think he would be privy to the inner workings of he creation of the no fly list. I bet it is a similar name or something along those lines.
4.9.2007 3:04am
Informant (mail):
Prof. Kerr,

This article addresses somewhat your point about Radack being permitted to fly. Obviously, many instances are not a true "No Fly" list situation (in the sense of "never allowed on an airplane again"), but rather heightened scrutiny that deters flying by elevating the inconvenience factor to unbearable levels.

http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/27/02/feature3.shtml

While I agree that is a distinction that can be drawn, it seems a distinction without difference to me. A municipal government that had a policy of disproportionately conducting traffic stops of cars with black drivers would, IIRC from Basic Criminal Procedure, be committing a 42 U.S.C. 1983 violation just as much as a municipal government that flat-out prohibited black drivers from entering the community, right?

In any event (as stated above), my point was not the Bush Administration was systematically excluding leftwingers from flying, it was simply that Murphy is hardly the first person with leftist credentials who arguably has been excluded. I also will admit, based on reviewing the dates of the news accounts I'm finding, a disproportionate number of these incidents happened during the 2003-04 time frame, although I'm not exactly sure what that proves. (The ACLU lawsuit mentioned above was filed in April 2004, however: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/17234res20030606.html, which could suggest that the questionable behavior was reined in after legal scrutiny was turned on the issue.)
4.9.2007 3:12am
OrinKerr:
Thanks again, Informant. I'll check it out.

I guess I'm skeptical of the Radack story in part because of my own experience; around 2003-2004, I did a bunch of business trips in which I was "randomly selected" for each leg of each trip, just like Radack. When I asked one of the TSA people about it (or whatever agency it was back then), he asked me if all of my flights were on the same airlines. It turned out that the software they were using at the time singled out people on one-way flights, and when you bought a ticket online that combined multiple carriers it treated each leg as a separate one-way flight. So you were guaranteed "random selection" for each leg of each flight. Now of course that's a pretty silly security policy, but it did suggest that I wasn't on a special watch list. I was just trying to save GW some money by buying cheap airline tickets.

Oh, and for the record, I have no idea why the 1:30 and 1:31 posts aren't appearing. (I'm actually not sure there were posts there -- Informant, Revonna, did you post something then that isn't appearing? It might just be a bug when I was commenting on so many comments by using the "back" button on my browser.)
4.9.2007 3:21am
Tek Jansen:
I am actually on the same boat a Orin. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I agree with you and Orin that this is just some name coincidence. In practice, I'd guess it's really difficult to get off the no-fly list. Making baseless allegations with as much publicity as possible might be the best way for this to happen. Murphy may just see this as a way to get off the list.
4.9.2007 3:24am
OrinKerr:
4.9.2007 3:34am
eforhan (mail):
I have no problem with a comment being responded to directly-- it actually un-clutters the thread. The only caveat is that I tend not to skim through messages normally to see if they've been edited, which is mostly due to habit.

BTW, "Revonna" has no clothes (Volkh.com).
4.9.2007 3:42am
eforhan (mail):
Ahh, beat by a few minutes ...
4.9.2007 3:43am
eforhan (mail):

This effort to punish a critic states my lecture's argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could.


Oh, I dunno... seem's he's doing it pretty well now. The very thing for which he rails on this administration gets used on him?

It's a shame, but embelleshed events like Fahrenheit 9/11 and outright lies such as Rathergate and the Dartmouth incident have me very, very skeptical. I'm hardly a Bushvangelical, but there's no doubt there are plenty of people out there who are willing to do anything to bring him down.
4.9.2007 4:23am
Can't find a good name:
Perhaps a classical music fan at the FBI was offended by the disco tune "A Fifth of Beethoven."
4.9.2007 4:53am
StevenK:
If he's on the list for making a critical speech, it's an outrage, of course. Still, I'd like to hear the official reason. I have a friend with a very common Anglo-Saxon name who makes no speeches but is on that list, so it certainly can happen.

I can't say I'm particularly impressed with Professor Murphy. Is he claiming if the top men in the Administration fought bravely in a war and he didn't, it would be more acceptable to ban him for a nasty speech?
4.9.2007 5:25am
Kilo (mail):

Informant, this example seems pretty weak; Radack was selected for extra inspection sveeral times, and she is guessing that this is because she is on a special list.


You could make the same argument for every news report anecdote of every individual found to be on the list. Doesn't really amount to anything meaningful though.

If you, and everyone with the a similiar name, were wrongly blacklisted as communists back in the 50s and could never have this classification overturned, would it have been useful to determine which illegitimate reason you were classified as this ?

Nobody has written more about the no-fly lists, their insane operation and complete uselessness than Bruce Schneier and he's also reviewed their operation for the government and consulted on how to fix them (those recommendations were ignored BTW).
Schneier: 186 entries for "no-fly list"
4.9.2007 6:49am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Back in the Sixties of blessed memory, I had a couple of professors who, pleased and coy at the same time, announced that LBJ had revamped old WW II bases as prison camps for intellectuals and they--the shyly smiling profs--were on the short list as intellectuals.
Sort of like a badge of honor. Which would make one smile only if one believed it not.
Critics get more cred if they are persecuted. I'd be interested in having Murphy prove beyond a shadow of a doubt--not reasonable doubt because I'd expect him to lie from the start--that his assertion is true.
4.9.2007 7:15am
CS (mail):
Um, Kennedy, Murphy...name a widely dispersed population that harbors what the US government deems a terrorist organization, and uses relatively few common last names. Besides the Arabs.

Doesn't it seem obvious why the airline clerk immediately said, "That'll do it?"
4.9.2007 8:47am
An Army Lawyer (mail) (www):
I don't see what the controversy is. Personally, I get all my homeland and national security information from American Airlines ticket-takers based out of Newark.

Now, had it been a Southwest clerk out of Burbank? Pfft...now that's just downright unreliable...
4.9.2007 8:59am
AppSocRes (mail):
Ideology may be muddying the waters here: An aspect of leftist ideology in this country is that the federal government is highly efficient. Therefore incidents like this suggest a highly effective plan to harass critics of the government. The right assumes that government is incompetent and inefficient and this is just another example of innocent incompetence.

It's pretty clear in the aftermath of 9/11 that some screening program is necessary. It's also pretty clear that the current system is so badly broken as to be nearly useless. From a software engineering viewpoint, I'm willing to bet that an inadequate design was implemented very quickly and rather than building a good system from the ground up, the responsible government agency has been patching faults in the current as they are found. This never works and is particularly useless when it involves a rapidly changing database.
4.9.2007 9:00am
Jeek:
Talk about an exaggerated sense of self-importance. If they put him on a list of People With Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it would certainly be justified.

Last time I went to the DMV to renew my license, they accused me of being a deadbeat dad in Michigan. I have no children, and I've never been to Michigan. How did I get on that list? I have a really common name. Some genius who teaches at Princeton who also has a really common name ought to be able to figure out why he really made the no-fly list.
4.9.2007 9:08am
nk (mail) (www):
Thank you, "Can't find a good name". I wondered what Instapundit was talking about. My first thought was that they confused him with Warren Murphy of "Destroyer" fame.
4.9.2007 9:29am
Andrew Hamilton (mail):
I myself seem to be on that list, and the reason seems to be that my passport contains my full name, while my credit card contains only my banking name. If I were Prof. Murphy I'd look for a similar explanation -- a list mismatch of some sort -- before I'd suspect the motives of the list compilers.
4.9.2007 9:38am
James Dillon (mail):
I'm on the no-fly list, too, or at least, someone with my name is (if he's really a terrorist, I would imagine he must be I.R.A. rather than al-Qaeda). It's not really a terrible inconvenience, it just takes a few extra minutes while the check-in clerk takes my I.D. and makes a phone call. While I may have made a few blog comments critical of the administration over the years, I tend to think it's more a case of mistaken identity than intentional retribution. Professor Murphy certainly does seem to be jumping to conclusions here.

What's interesting is that this only happens about half the time I fly; the rest of the time, I'm waved straight through, which makes one wonder about the effectiveness of airport security even today.
4.9.2007 10:21am
Nick P.:
Orin Kerr
Imagine a case with a real terrorist. Is the American Airlines agent supposed to say, "Sir, it says here that you're on the list because you're a member of an Al Qaeda cell under close FBI surveillance"? As for the right to see evidence against you &confront witnesses, that right is a right when you are charged with a crime in court. It doesn't apply to having to talk to a supervisor to get a boarding pass.

I'd be surprised if a real terrorist under active FBI surveillence would be on the no-fly list. If the terrorist doesn't know he is under surveillence, preventing him from boarding a plane, whether or not you tell him why, is an excellent way to alert him to that fact.

The no fly list is probably about as useful as confiscating everyone's little bottles of hand sanitizer. About the only thing it actually would be good for is harassing critics.
4.9.2007 10:24am
SailorDave (www):
I'm very disappointed to learn that Walter Murphy has fallen for the "Starship Troopers" argument that veterans deserve more rights or that only veterans deserve rights.

OTH, I wouldn't be disappointed or surprised by either TSA incompetence or Bush administration malice.
4.9.2007 10:34am
jimmy (mail) (www):
Everyone personalizes these things. I've been on the damn list for years. I've called them about being removed, etc... it's just inept bureaucracy; no conspiracy.

And I'm an adamant Bush supporter.


http://rationalenvironmentalist.com
4.9.2007 10:42am
elChato (mail):
Orin, why ruin Professor Murphy's pity party? Facts will only get in the way, it's much more fun for him to make them up, especially when backed up by such compelling evidence as his personal recollection of the offhand comment of an airline clerk.
4.9.2007 10:43am
jimmy (mail) (www):
The worst part is that you can't do online check-in.
4.9.2007 10:43am
Justin (mail):
My ex-gf back in law school (an anti-war and anti-Israel activist) was on the no fly list - let me tell you how much fun it was to go on vacation with her.
4.9.2007 10:46am
Just Dropping By (mail):
"I'd be surprised if a real terrorist under active FBI surveillence would be on the no-fly list."

That was the exact situation in the case of the plot to blow up US-bound airliners with liquid explosives -- the suspects were never put on the No Fly list (notwithstanding being under surveillance for plotting to bomb aircraft) because then they might have learned they were under suspicion (scroll about 2/3's of the way down here): Unsafe at Any Altitude
4.9.2007 10:46am
Randy R. (mail):
"Last time I went to the DMV to renew my license, they accused me of being a deadbeat dad in Michigan."

The last time I went to the DMV in Washington, my hair color was listed as pink, and my eyes yellow. The woman helping me thought this so funny, she called over other workers to look at my file. They got a hearty laugh, and the line backed up even more.
4.9.2007 10:46am
Justin (mail):
Strange, James. We always had to do the whole sit-in-the-security-section-while our bags and persons got checked.

Still, we just made sure to get into the airport a half-hour earlier, and never missed a flight. I never got too worked up over it. And since I was never given the honor of the list, once we broke up, that was the end of that experience.
4.9.2007 10:48am
A.C.:
AppSocRes --

You get the prize for the funniest thing I've read in a while:

"An aspect of leftist ideology in this country is that the federal government is highly efficient."

I would add "except for FEMA," but otherwise this sort of thing astounds me on a daily basis. And even the FEMA critics seem to expect the federal government to know what to do when a major city gets flooded. Don't know where an expectation like that comes from.

I'm not on a No-Fly list, as far as I know, but I was once hounded by a collection agency because of a bill run up by someone whose name differed from mine by one letter. It happens.
4.9.2007 10:49am
Russ (mail):
Mr. Murphy has an exceptionally exaggerated sense of his own importance.

Think about it - in a world where this kind of targeting for political reasons would make tremendous news, why would the Bush Administration play right into those hands, especially with someone who has exactly zero impact oni the direction of this country.

Methinks he needs to come back down to Earth with the rest of us mortals.
4.9.2007 10:50am
Randy R. (mail):
AppSoc: "An aspect of leftist ideology in this country is that the federal government is highly efficient." and the right wing thinks that gov't is inefficient and incompetent.

I agree with your statements. However, the far right wingsnuts believe in the absolute efficiency of gov't too. Just ask my uncle, who is a conspiracy nut and believes that the gov't can engineer recessions to target certain companies or sectors and so on.

Myself? With the Bush Administration, they have proven to my satisfaction that they are a double whammy -- they are evil AND incompetent.

And I thank the good lord for the later part.
4.9.2007 10:50am
rarango (mail):
I side with the government incompetence side. Whatever the reason, however, I do believe Murphy is justified in making an issue (if even for the wrong reason), because of the extreme difficulty in getting off the no-fly list.
4.9.2007 10:58am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I've deleted several comments on this thread by ReVonna LaSchatze, who has been repeatedly banned for rudeness and vulgarity. Unfortunately, since LaSchatze's posts have generally come from different IP addresses, I can't make the ban stick normally, so deleting the comments is the only way to make the ban effective. (See here for my note on the subject.)

My apologies to those who have responded to those comments, and whose responses may now be harder to understand.
4.9.2007 11:09am
goldsmith (mail):

My ex-gf back in law school (an anti-war and anti-Israel activist) was on the no fly list - let me tell you how much fun it was to go on vacation with her


Aside from the problems with airport security and no-fly lists, I can already guess how much fun it was to go on vacation with her. Nothing like seven days in the Poconos listening to someone rave about the Zionist Underground and false-flag operations.
4.9.2007 11:15am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Well, if everyone who has criticized the Bush Administration is on the no-fly list, then that list has to be pretty long by now. I am not sure why Prof. Murphy thinks that his opposition is any more notable than that of tens of millions of other Americans.

On the other hand, though not Irish, his name does sound a bit Irish. How many IRA members have/had a last name of "Murphy"? And, "Walter" is not unheard of in Ireland. So, my suspicion is that if that name is on the list, and it is legitimately there, it is likely because it is the name of one or more known or reputed IRA terrorists. Indeed, if he had been using "W" instead of "Walter", I would expect it to show up even more often than "T. Kennedy".

Which may be a good reason for those of Irish descent in this country who still help fund the IRA (if any - supposedly this funding has dried up), to stop doing it, as it may be impeading the travel of Americans with Irish sounding last names.
4.9.2007 11:17am
Justin (mail):
goldsmith, I cannot begin to describe incredibly productive your contribution was to this discussion.
4.9.2007 11:20am
Justin (mail):
"Which may be a good reason for those of Irish descent in this country who still help fund the IRA (if any - supposedly this funding has dried up), to stop doing it, as it may be impeading the travel of Americans with Irish sounding last names."

Wouldn't a more effective way of helping the travel of Americans with Irish sounding last names be to improve (nevermind abandon) the no-fly list's accuracy?
4.9.2007 11:22am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
What puzzles me is why so many of you seem to find the explanation of "government incompentence" a benign one. We are under attack from terrorists and yet folks toss-off overly-broad no-fly lists with a casual "government incompentence."

If the Government were indeed targeting opponents of the Iraq War (all 200 million or so!) it would be yet another example of "government incompetence" so such an explanation gets us nowhere.
4.9.2007 11:24am
rarango (mail):
David Sucher: At the risk of sounding overly cynical, I believe that a (relatively) incompetent government is a safeguard to our liberties. Recall the Gene Hackman movie "Enemy of the State."

I am also inclined to believe that a no-fly list, while it may be cosmetic, probably is going to do nothing to deter a determined terrorist. It is simply too coarse a screen, aggravates law-abiding citizens, and tends to reinforce in the public perception the Kafkaesque nature of the bureaucracy.
4.9.2007 11:34am
KevinM:
"Which may be a good reason for those of Irish descent in this country who still help fund the IRA (if any - supposedly this funding has dried up), to stop doing it, as it may be impeading the travel of Americans with Irish sounding last names."

The funny part of the Ted Kennedy story, if I'm recalling correctly, is that the airport in which it occurred also had an "Irish sounding last name" -- it was at John F. Kennedy airport in NYC. And of course it was Ted Kennedy himself, along with Hugh Carey, who famously (if belatedly) took a public stance against my fellow Irish-Americans who used to fund the IRA out of some misguided ethnic sentimentality, without thinking too hard about the use to which the money was being put.
4.9.2007 11:59am
Joe Murphy (mail):
I am on the same list; I assume it comes from having a common last name.

walter murphy must be a tad hysterical to think that he is being singled out.
4.9.2007 11:59am
loki13 (mail):
Color me confused....

the 'leftists' on the Volokh are complaining about the leviathan government bureaucracy run amokk rampanging over their rights and a lack of accountability.

the 'rightists' on the blog are excusing this because, well, it's an honest mistake, and they trust the government to get it right eventually. And if people are really inconvenienced and hassled by an unaccountable government bureaucracy that promulgates it rules in secret (while letting the actual terrorists fly, because we don't want them to know that we're on to them), well, that's okay.

Shouldn't this be the other way around?

(personally, feh. Flying is a privilege. And a hassle. But the no-fly list is a joke, and needs some sort of oversight.)
4.9.2007 12:14pm
AppSocRes (mail):
A.C. : My bad. I meant to say "An aspect of leftist thought in this country is that a properly managed federal government is efficient."
4.9.2007 12:23pm
Mark Field (mail):
Why is there a no-fly list anyway? It seems to me that screenings, luggage searches, and cockpit security (including, I imagine air marshals on flights) would provide the only real security we need. If OBL himself got on board with no weapons and no means of getting to the pilot, what's the concern?
4.9.2007 12:40pm
dvorak:

the 'rightists' on the blog are excusing this because, well, it's an honest mistake, and they trust the government to get it right eventually.


Speaking for the rightists, we don't trust the government to ever get it right. The response is mostly in terms that this Walter Murphy is full of himself and on a list of critical issues in HomeLand Security, mistakes with the No-Fly List simply isn't in the Top 20 - which is not the same as saying attempts to correct such errors should not be made.
4.9.2007 12:51pm
neurodoc:
goldsmith, I cannot begin to describe incredibly productive your contribution was to this discussion.

Justin, that you had an "anti-Israel activist" GF does help explain many of your "contributions" to Professor Bernstein's threads.
4.9.2007 12:54pm
Kevin Murphy:
The "no fly" list is incredibly stupid, especially when common names are included without qualification. I've been on it four a couple of years. It's incredibly annoying being frisked evey time you get on a plane. Why? Only God (and possibly another Kevin Murphy) knows. It's unlikely that DHS does.
4.9.2007 1:05pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Maybe the answer from the right from some of those above is that yes, the government is way screwed up here, but what do you expect? It is the government. Do I really feel safer because I can't take a nail clipper onboard? Of course not. But pretty much anything we do to try to make the government work better here are destined for failure. The latest here is that the new Democrat majority is trying to a) unionize the TSA employees, and b) ban ethnic profiling of passengers. Yes, ban looking twice at young middle eastern men traveling together loudly chanting prayers to Allah, on one way tickets, paid for with cash, with minimal baggage, etc. (Actually, that sounds a bit like the Flying Imans who appear to be suing for being removed from a flight when some onboard became worried about their mimicing the 9/11 hijackers).

Flying is probably safer now than it was pre-9/11, but that has almost nothing to do with what the government has done, at least openly. And, in particular, the no-fly list. Rather, I would suggest that it is safer because:
- cockpit doors have been reinforced
- procedures are being followed to keep that door closed except in well controlled circumstances.
- people are being kept from congregating at the front by the cockpit,
- pilots are being taught how to fly to inapacitate anyone not strapped in, and
- few believe anymore that they will be safely delivered back home if they just cooperate.

The last is probably the most important, as was seen by UA 93. Today, it is highly likely that if a similar type of hijacking attempt is made, that the perps would end up captured or dead in short order.

And the government has little to do with any of those things. The government is more likely to ban exactly the types of surveilance and profiling most likely to highlight potential hijackers than it is to actually catch or deter them. Indeed, some have suggested that all those TSA procedures, no-fly lists, etc. are merely to make the public feel better about flying and that the government is doing something about the problem, though it really isn't.
4.9.2007 1:06pm
Justin (mail):
As a moderately pro-Israel Jew, I assure you that there is indeed some connection between my interactions with the (often viruently (sp?)) anti-Israel crowd and my steadfast bellief that this crowd is not fueled by anti-semetism. I think its a far better basis for my position than those who have had no personal interaction with people who they disagree with other than in antagonistic environments. The fact that my current gf is pro-Israel (and not a moderate about the issue) also gives me some understanding of the pro-Israel side, at least the side that is distinct from the neoconservative and evangelical Christian strains of that movement.

Now, if we're done discussing irrelevant aspects of my personal history, I think we can get back to the discussion at hand (the point of my point to goldsmith, after all).
4.9.2007 1:09pm
Adeez (mail):
For what it's worth, Randi Rhodes is on the list too. For those who are unfamiliar, she's a long-time liberal talk radio host who has a popular show on Air America. And an Air Force veteran as well.
4.9.2007 1:14pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Having been at least partially responsible for putting certain Arabic names on the no-fly list while working abroad for the USG, I can point to a few of the problems.

The first is obvious: complete biodata of supposed terrorists is usually incomplete. Often, one is lucky to get a real name. That real name may be complete, though usually not. It may also be a very common name, as many are. It takes time to get information that would uniquely distinguish a would-be terrorist from someone with an identical name.

Someone with the name 'M. Ghamdi' is going to raise eyebrows as two of the 9/11 hijackers were 'Ghamdis'. But there are a hundred thousand 'Ghamdis' in Saudi Arabia alone. Most are from a region where the keeping of vital records like birth certificates is sketchy. It takes a lot of digging (read: weeks of work) to try and fill in the missing data, if it can be done at all. Believe it or not, people don't always know when they were born, particularly if they have to switch between calendars. Transcription of names introduces its own confounding factors. Is 'Gamdi' the same as 'Ghamdi', is 'Mohammed' the same as 'Muhammad'? Are 'Abdulrahaman' and 'Abd Al-Rahman' the same guy? In fact, probably since English transliterations aren't a matter of daily use, an individual can be very inconsistent as can local bureaucracies that will use different transcriptions on different documents for the same individual. The world isn't an orderly place.

Is the government to use an excess of caution by listing that name or is it to wait until full information is developed, if ever? Does a government bureaucrat want to take the risk of letting a name pass through an insufficiency of information, then having someone by that name kill a few thousand Americans? Do you? How would you act in that person's place?

The various watch lists, visa lookout lists, no-fly lists were in very poor shape in 2001-2003, largely because these lists were held by different federal agencies which didn't put a lot of emphasis on mutual coordination. They also did not share their lists. This has been improved to some extent over the past couple of years as the lists are now shared and integrated to a large degree. Cooperation between agencies charged with security has also improved, but of course is subject to the vagaries of individuals. It can be improved further.

Every airline flight I took after 9/11, while traveling from the Middle East, I was selected for Special Secondary Screening. And that was while traveling with a black, Diplomatic Passport, about as positive an indication that I was indeed among the 'good guys' as you can get. While annoying, it was hardly a big deal. I only had to remember the close to two dozen of my friends and colleagues, also with black passports, who had been killed in terrorist actions since the 1980s.

A question for Mark Field: How many US Marshals do you think there are? I assure you most flights in the US do not have one aboard.
4.9.2007 1:26pm
AF:
There may well be an innocent explanation for Walter Murphy being on the no-fly list. However, you can hardly blame him for thinking otherwise when he had the following exchange with the American Airlines clerk:

"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said. "

Maybe the clerk doesn't know what he is talking about; although he presumably deals with no-fly list every day, he wouldn't necessarily know how it is prepared. But if the people whose job it is to handle the no-fly list are telling people that they're on it because of their political views, that in itself is a big deal. Paranoia is the natural result of excessive government secrecy. Someone should satisfy the airline clerks that this isn't happening.
4.9.2007 1:28pm
Mark Field (mail):

A question for Mark Field: How many US Marshals do you think there are? I assure you most flights in the US do not have one aboard.


I don't actually know, and I'll take your word for the fact that they are few. My point, though, is that it seems money would be better spent on them (and on other measures like Bruce Hayden mentioned) than on a no-fly list. The no-fly list seems pointless to me; security theater at best, and subject to serious abuse at worst.
4.9.2007 1:52pm
Russ (mail):
AF,

I call total BS on this exchange. First, individual airlines have very little input - if any at all - into the no-fly list. The clerk was either yanking his chain or he made it up. Second, when did people start taking attendance at these marches?

This smacks of someone who desperately wants to be more important than they really are.
4.9.2007 2:55pm
AF:
Russ, the clerk may have been wrong, but either way it's a problem. The people who administer no-fly lists shouldn't be saying things like that. Whether it's lack of training, lack of transparency, or the no-fly lists themselves, there's a flaw in the sytem.
4.9.2007 3:10pm
Nick P.:
John Burgess:
Someone with the name 'M. Ghamdi' is going to raise eyebrows as two of the 9/11 hijackers were 'Ghamdis'.

Can you explain why the name Ghamdi should raise eyebrows? If the known terrorists with that name died on 9/11, why should Ghamdi be treated any differently than any other Saudi Arabian surname? If "Ghamdi" is included on a watch list just because it was the name of a deceased terrorist, that seems pretty clear evidence that the list is, as Mark Fields suggests above, a pointless piece of "security theater" that distracts from actually useful strategies like locking cockpit doors.
4.9.2007 3:32pm
neurodoc:
goldsmith, I cannot begin to describe incredibly productive your contribution was to this discussion.

Justin, you weren't personally attacked by goldsmith, but you reacted to him with that snarky response. You have often gone after Professor Bernstein in a similar way, that is personal and/or contemptuous, when unwarranted, hence my reaction to you response to goldsmith, who like many of us may not share your "steadfast bellief that this crowd (the anti-Israel one) is not fueled by anti-semetism."

I will not ask whether your ex-GF, the "anti-Israel" one, was Jewish, nor whether your current immoderately "pro-Israel" one is Jewish. That is as irrelevant to the merits of what you/they have to say as it is that you are Jewish and see yourself "moderately pro-Israel." It is curious in the context of this thread about the no-fly list, though, that you chose to bring up the ex-GF and describe her as both "an anti-war and anti-Israel activist." Do you think she was on the no-fly list simply because she was an "anti-war" activist, or an "anti-Israel" activist, both, or neither? And by "activist" do you mean something more than speaking out in opposition to the war and/or Israeli policies?

Out of curiosity, I will ask if those anti-Israel types who you assure us are in no way "anti-semitic" want Israel to continue as a secure homeland for Jews, or do they favor "solutions" like one "binational Palestinian state," an unqualified "right of return," etc.? Do they rationalize/justify acts of terrorism, maybe even give material support to terrorist organizations (e.g., ISM)?
4.9.2007 3:50pm
mantis (mail):
I have a personal story that is about who doesn't make it onto the list, but could point to some larger issues about the list in general. About two years ago my girlfriend and I were taking some photos of an oil refinery in Illinois for a college photo class project. We were on the street and did not enter the property in any way. After about 20 minutes a security guard for the refinery drove up and told us we could not take any photos. We had what we wanted anyway so we got in the car and left. About 100 yards down the road we were pulled over by no less than three police cruisers, separated and questioned on the side of the road. One officer took our ids and told us he needed to check us out with the FBI because oil refineries were considered possible terrorism targets after 9/11. Our story checked out and we were let go after giving them our phone numbers and other info and being told we may receive a follow-up call or visit from the feds.

After this incident I was sure we would be put on the no-fly or similar list and that flying would become a big hassle. To my surprise we flew less than three months later and have done so many times since without so much as a "random" selection.

My point here is that such lists are more likely than not inconsistently administered and poorly maintained (many other stories support this), and as a result are prone to countless errors and omissions. If any American deserved to be put on the list, at least temporarily, I imagine it should have been the two of us after we were "caught" taking pictures of an oil refinery after dark on a deserted road, but alas, we were not (I have a friend in the TSA who said that if we weren't hassled in any way when flying within a year of the event, that we were certainly not on the list). If the various stories about people who should be on the list but are not and people who shouldn't be on the list but still are (like people we know to be deceased) are true, then this Walter Murphy (not too unique a name) story could be just one more instance of the inept handling of watch-lists in general and the no-fly list in particular (if he is even on the list).
4.9.2007 3:50pm
itshissong:
"Second, when did people start taking attendance at these marches?"

If you are unaware of the efforts that many authorities including the FBI and the NYPD have conducted large scale surveillance efforts on peaceful protestors in the wake of 9/11. Now, I don't want to get into the argument of whether they should or should not do so (I come down on the should not side of things) but if you don't know about this stuff you either don't really read the news very often or you are trying to avoid it.
4.9.2007 4:04pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Nick P: Most of the 15 Saudis involved in 9/11 come from a particular region of the country, the Asir, which is noted for a lack of job opportunities and a more extreme take on the eschatological 'clash of civilizations' than most conservative Saudis. The Ghamdis are a large part of an even larger tribal grouping in that region. While some of the Ghamdis are fine fellows and the majority of them are not any sort of threat, that name tends to appear uncomfortably often among the lists of jihadists killed in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Consider it profiling based on history. The net may be too wide (and most Ghamdis will assert that it is), but it is more likely to identify real problems, even with a lot of false negatives.

It's not dissimilar to the way that people from a particular village in Syria will never receive a B1/B2 tourist/business visa to visit the US. Over the past 50 years, every person from that village given a US visa, 100% of them, has changed status once within the US, seeking either asylum status, immigrant status, or marrying a US citizen within months of arriving. I'm not aware of any of them being terrorists, but all of them violate the intent of the law and the will of Congress as it wrote immigration law. Tough luck for the non-violators, but efficiency has its costs.
4.9.2007 4:05pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.



Very true. Unfortunately, it does not improve the situation at all. An inept system doesn't make me confident as to their abilities to protect us.
4.9.2007 5:08pm
Justin (mail):
Neurodoc,

Answering the only question you posit that is relevant or even nonreprehensible, I think it was her anti-war views. I added anti-Israel to conjure up the image that we weren't talking about our run-of-the-mill anti-war person (which would define most Americans), but a more active and outspoken critic of this administration.
4.9.2007 5:26pm
markm (mail):

Mark Field (mail):
Why is there a no-fly list anyway? It seems to me that screenings, luggage searches, and cockpit security (including, I imagine air marshals on flights) would provide the only real security we need. If OBL himself got on board with no weapons and no means of getting to the pilot, what's the concern?

In tests where people try to smuggle simulated weapons and bombs through security, only about 10% are detected. So OBL probably could get weapons aboard - not that I expect he'd go on a suicide mission himself...

Of course, the list would also be quite useless at stopping OBL. He would not be using his own name. Maybe he'd get papers in the name of W. Murphy or T. Kennedy...
4.9.2007 5:28pm
mariner:
I'm on that list.

I am a U.S. citizen who as a Naval Officer held a Top Secret clearance (which required a thorough background investigation).

Now I'm a merchant mariner, and to renew my license and merchant mariner's ID after 2001 I had another background investigation.

I have a concealed handgun permit where I live, which required yet another fingerprinting and another background investigation.

I have lived in the same place since I was on active duty.

In other words, my identity and background have been investigated to a fare-thee-well, and I'm still on their g*ddamned list.

(And I'm not even a pompous leftist.)
4.9.2007 5:43pm
Mark Field (mail):

In tests where people try to smuggle simulated weapons and bombs through security, only about 10% are detected. So OBL probably could get weapons aboard - not that I expect he'd go on a suicide mission himself...

Of course, the list would also be quite useless at stopping OBL. He would not be using his own name. Maybe he'd get papers in the name of W. Murphy or T. Kennedy...


I agree. This shows we need to have multiple safeguards against potential hijacks. But OBL isn't going to board a plane under his real name; if any terrorist did so, we should arrest him, not tell him to talk to the supervisor.
4.9.2007 6:03pm
SP:
Ah, being sensitive again, I see, Orin. Not sure why my "Fifth of Beethoven" joke was deleted (maybe it was a bad joke, but it doesn't seem to violate the standards listed below), but it is your - albeit boring - thread.
4.9.2007 8:04pm
neurodoc:
Justin, it was you, not goldsmith or I, who brought up your "ex-gf back in law school;" and it was you, not goldsmith or I, who noted she was "an anti-war and anti-Israel activist." Also, you were the one who went into your "personal history," identifying yourself as a "pro-Israel Jew" who could confidently say based on experience of "the (often viruently (sp?) anti-Israel crowd...(that it is your) steadfast bellief that this crowd is not fueled by anti-semetism." But all questions prompted by what you said above are irrelevant and reprehensible save for the one you chose to answer?! Wow, where did you hone these debate skills? (BTW, does one ever "posit" a question?)

Now, we can save it for a future exchange on one of Professor Bernstein's threads or you can dodge my questions/challenges altogether, as you choose. But so others may judge for themselves relevance and reprehensibility, we will repeat the questions previously put to you: i) "Do you think she (ex-gf) was on the no-fly list simply because she was an 'anti-war' activist, or an 'anti-Israel' activist, both, or neither?; ii) "(B)y 'activist' do you mean something more than speaking out in opposition to the war and/or Israeli policies?;" iii) "(Do)...those anti-Israel types who you assure us are in no way 'anti-semitic' want Israel to continue as a secure homeland for Jews, or do they favor 'solutions' like one 'binational Palestinian state,' an unqualified 'right of return,' etc.?"; and, iv) "Do they rationalize/justify acts of terrorism, maybe even give material support to terrorist organizations (e.g., International Solidarity Movement)?"

And, so we might understand your response to the one question you did not avoid on the grounds of "irrelevance" and/or "reprehensibility" (was that my [i]?), would you explain exactly how the addition of "anti-Israel" makes clear that the ex-gf was not "our run-of-the-mill anti-war person (which would define most Americans), but a more active and outspoken critic of this administration." (italics mine) The ex-gf was not anti-Israel prior to January 20, 2001, when the current administration came into office? What about the advent of the Bush administration made her anti-Israel, if she wasn't already of that persuasion? IIRC (and maybe I don't), you took great exception when I suggested in one of those Bernstein threads that an anti-Israel stance was part of the Progressive package for many. Haven't you just made my point that there is indeed such a "package," or was the "anti-war and anti-Israel activist" ex-GF not otherwise Progressive?

I will be away until Wednesday afternoon, so don't feel under any time pressure to answer that which you don't deem irrelevant or reprehensible. It is your considered, substantive responses that are of interest, not the other.
4.9.2007 8:59pm
Visitor Again:
Justin mentioned having had an anti-Israel girlfriend as the reason she may have been on the no-fly list. Others turned that into a personal attack on Justin--as explaining the views he expresses on the entire VC blog.
4.9.2007 10:24pm
OrinKerr:
SP,

The thread turned into a very substantive and interesting discussion about the merits, and I just didn't think the obvious disco joke really fit as the very first comment. Sorry.
4.9.2007 11:00pm
neurodoc:
Visitor Again, why don't you go back and read the exchanges with Justin more closely. He brought up the ex-GF and noted that she was "an anti-war and anti-Israel activist" presumably because he thought it noteworthy in the context of this thread. Then when asked what he thought might have gotten her on the no-fly list, whether it was the "anti-war" piece, the "anti-Israel" piece, both, or neither, he said he thought "it was her anti-war views," but "added anti-Israel to conjure up the image that we weren't talking about our run-of-the-mill anti-war person (which would define most Americans), but a more active and outspoken critic of this administration." I asked, and would still like to know, how he imagines "anti-Israel" amplifies "anti-war," in particular why it should tell us the ex-GF is "a more active and outspoken critic of this administration." In his mind there is significant overlap between the two, the "anti-Israel" somehow underscoring just how "active and outspoken critic of this administration" she is?

Justin chose to tell us about the ex-GF ("an anti-Israel activist," according to him), the current GF (immoderately "pro-Israel," according to him), and himself ("moderately pro-Israel Jew," according to him.) It is not a personal attack to question him about the implications of what he has said, especially when he claims to speak authoritatively ("I assure you that there is indeed some connection between my interactions with the [often viruently (sp?)] anti-Israel crowd and my steadfast bellief that this crowd is not fueled by anti-semetism.")

I really would like to have Justin's answers. It remains to be seen, though, whether he is going to come out from behind that "relevant and nonreprehensible" nonsense.
4.10.2007 12:09am
SP:
"The thread turned into a very substantive and interesting discussion about the merits, and I just didn't think the obvious disco joke really fit as the very first comment. Sorry."

As I said, it is your thread, but this case is the equivalent of a bodice-ripper for law professors and probably could use some humor, however lame it may be.
4.10.2007 1:04am
Kilo (mail):

Well, if everyone who has criticized the Bush Administration is on the no-fly list, then that list has to be pretty long by now.


Well there was a report in Feb that they were going to be scrapping it. So here's the explanation why. They'll clearly be replacing the bloated, inaccurate and inefficient No-Fly List with the Fly List.

Currently has the names of White House, Weekly Standard and NRO staff on it. The rest of you can catch a bus.
4.10.2007 8:00am
Justin (mail):
neurodoc, I'm assuming that you aren't a trial lawyer, as you have a very, shall we say, interesting view of what concerns "opening the door" in terms of relevance. Please leave me alone.
4.10.2007 11:07am
Anon. (mail):
As a number of other people with the surname Murphy above can attest to, that name is targeted on the no-fly list, despite it being rather common.

This is most likely why Prof. Murphy was on the list. (Although this begs the question of why he was justing starting to get flagged now, in 2006, rather than in past years.)

From what I understand (this was relayed to me by another Murphy on the no-fly list), there are a number Irish terrorists using this surname which lead to its being put on the no-fly list.
4.10.2007 11:55am
neurodoc:
neurodoc, I'm assuming that you aren't a trial lawyer, as you have a very, shall we say, interesting view of what concerns "opening the door" in terms of relevance. Please leave me alone.
Not that it is truly relevant, since this forum does not operate subject to the rules of criminal or civil procedure, but I will tell you that you assume incorrectly.

Anyway, I take it you do not intend to answer, though you may continue to go after me and others who disagree with you, even when there is no reason for such differences to turn personal. That's OK, but if you do assert yourself in another thread, perhaps one of Professor Bernstein's, as a trustworthy judge of what can and cannot amount to antisemitism because you have shared a bed with "anti-Israel activist" and have known other such people, you can expect me to contest you. And if you challenge me when I suggest that for many Progressives being anti-Israel is part of the package, I will remind you that it is you who made the linkage between "anti-war" and "anti-Israel," and "critic of this (Bush) administration" and "anti-Israel." (If knowing the value of A gives us a clue to the value of B, then A and B are not indepent variables.)
4.10.2007 1:48pm
Visitor Again:
Visitor Again, why don't you go back and read the exchanges with Justin more closely

Because I have already read them closely--before reaching my judgment that Justin is under personal attack from snarks of the first order. I think the best way of dealing with you is the way Justin has chosen. You have your opinion; I have mine. Let's leave it at that.
4.10.2007 6:21pm
walter murphy (mail):
Hmmm. My name is Walter Murphy. I'm not the above mentioned professor. But, I guess now I know why my name is on the no-fly list. Too bad my namesake has decided to be vocal enough to be put on that list. I have to then experience the reprocussions of his misguided intentions. Hey, how about changing your name to Muhammed and then put out a book. That way one less name has to be searched. I do travel and it is a hassle and now I know who to thank. Too bad your parents didn't say, "hey big W, shut up and get back in line, or else." I support our President and our troops and that must drive my namesake nuts. Too bad.
4.20.2007 5:52pm