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Lydon and Murphy on the No-Fly List:
Over at Open Source, a Public Radio International program, Christopher Lydon has a very sympathetic interview with Walter Murphy about his experience in March at the Newark Airport. Murphy contends that his treatment at the Airport is "a Constitutional Crisis writ small, an attack on an individual who dares to point out" that the Bush Administration's view of Executive power is dangerous and troubling. (Here's the video of the speech that Murphy believes led the Administration to target him.)

  Much to my surprise, I am personally named and criticized by Lydon as a blogger who "wants to make excuses for the government" by questioning the story. Lydon states that it is just "fascinating" that I would think to question Murphy's belief that he is being harassed for his speech. Unfortunately, Lydon doesn't explain why asking questions reveals a wish to "make excuses for the government" as compared to a wish to figure out the truth. Anyway, if you're interested, the mention of me is about a third the way through the program.

  The guest following Murphy is a Washington Post staff writer, Karen DeYoung, who points out a bunch of likely alternative explanations for Murphy's experience. She suggests that Murphy was probably just on the "selectee" list, not the No-Fly list, both because he was allowed to board the flight and because he wasn't even questioned on the return flight. Hmm, who knew that a Washington Post reporter would "want to make excuses" for the Bush Administration, too?

  Finally, Ryan Singel also interviewed Murphy recently; you can find his extensive interview here.
Constantin:
Remember that movie The Truman Show, where Jim Carrey slowly begins to realize that the whole world revolves around him? That's the fantasy this guy is trying to live out.
4.11.2007 3:35am
Steve P. (mail):
A "wish to figure out the truth" is often taken as a critique to those who think they already know the truth. Mr. Murphy may be right, he may not, but asking the questions shouldn't be seen as more than an interest in the facts, whatever they may be.

Some posters can (and have) use phrases like those to indicate some partisan distrust. Prof. Kerr's posting style and history makes me think that is unlikely.

I'd be honestly surprised if many people thought otherwise. Does anyone have an alternate explanation?
4.11.2007 3:45am
TribalPundit (W&M 0L) (mail) (www):
Has anyone suggested that perhaps the airport personnel were bored and just messing with him?

Not that it's right, but if you had someone going "Why am I being screened? I'm white! My name is German and Irish! Is it because I've been critical of President Bush?" you might be a little tempted to toy with him, mightn't you?
4.11.2007 4:09am
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Wanting to get at the truth is fine. But such a claim seems disengenuous when Professor Kerr's skepticism seems totally directed at Walter Murphy's assertions about his presence on the list.

Issues of efficacy and government competence aside, questions, such as how such lists are populated and whether or not ones presence on the list may be used in some prejudicial manner now or in the future, are never raised.
4.11.2007 5:46am
itshissong:
I have to admit, I normally like both Lydon and his show Opensource. However, this interview was pathetic and it really gives liberals and anti-Bushers like myself a bad name. There is a legitimate issue (more than one really) with the Watch-List that Murphy's experience illustrates and that is, if you have a list where no one knows how people get on it, no one knows who exactly is on it (W. Murphy, Walter Murphy, etc.), and no one knows how to get off of it than you obviously invite the kind of assumption that Murphy has made no matter how wrong-headed it is. Still, it is embarrassing to say the least that people seem to be taking Murphy's account and subsequent analysis at face value. For a more level-headed critique of the Watch-List apropos Murphy's experience check out this post from Balkinization
4.11.2007 9:15am
JK:
As a critic of the administration, this story is starting to get embarrassing. I'm really surprised that people are talking this so seriously.
4.11.2007 9:22am
M (mail):
I agree that the story is likely not much of anything in its particulars but the the remark, "who knew that a Washington Post reporter would 'want to make excuses' for the Bush Administration, too?" shows that you must not read the post much (see, the Iraq war). You might have a look at Brad Delong's long series of "why or why can't we have a better press core" posts focusing on the Washington Post.
4.11.2007 9:29am
rbj:
Why would Walter Murphy, out of all the Bush critics, be singled out for the "no-fly" list? One would think that a reporter could smell a bigger story here: are Bush critics being put on the "no-fly" list; and perhaps try and round up lots of big named critics and ask them about their experiences with flying. Doonesbury is constantly hammering the Bush administration, why not call up Gary Trudeau?

Or is it just much easier to accept at face value one person's experience, perhaps because it fits in with your preconceived beliefs?
4.11.2007 9:43am
Lively:
rbj:

One would think that a reporter could smell a bigger story here: are Bush critics being put on the "no-fly" list;


This is the beginning of the conspiracy. Shhh. Don't tell people who protest the war they will be on "no-fly." When it happens again, media will say, "See? This is the second time it's happened."
4.11.2007 10:10am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Liely,

It has already happened. A even more prominent opponent of the President's, one T. Kennedy, apparently had his name on the list. It must be a conspiracy.
4.11.2007 10:22am
Another Virginian:
The "false positives" on the list, such as this Mr. Murphy, reminds me of the Florida 2000 voter registration list purge for felons. In that case, the contractor used very inexact matching to develop the list to purge names of "felons" from the registration rolls, and many individuals didn't know they had been purged until they were turned away at the polls.

For example, the matching software did not correlate birth dates and only matched on something like the first 4 letters of the individual's last name. It was also generous in its use of initials to find matches.

GIGO applies to any list matching. Certainly, if the no-fly list is to have any value, then significant under inclusiveness would be a problem, especially if the targeted individual uses many aliases or is only known by aliases (i.e. no physical description), but broad nets present their own problems.

Gee, mom and dad, couldn't you have given me a creative, made-up name that's unlikely to be duplicated? Far easier to not get confused with another that way!
4.11.2007 10:27am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Much to my surprise, I am personally named and criticized by Lydon as a blogger who "wants to make excuses for the government" by questioning the story. Lydon states that it is just "fascinating" that I would think to question Murphy's belief that he is being harassed for his speech.
Must not read this blog a lot then. In my view, of all the VC, Orin seems to question the Administration the most. Indeed, his comments often seem to verge on open hostility (Orin - not speaking of your state of mind here, but just as they come across to one of your more conservative, pro-administration, readers).
4.11.2007 10:27am
Humble Law Student (mail):
Everyone is missing a key here -- Walter Murhpy's speech. As we ALL know, that speech was broadcast across the country. It caused a fundamental paradigm shift in politics. Millions rose against the Bush administration upon their eyes being opened by Murphy's speech.

Oh wait, no one had heard of it till now, oops.
4.11.2007 10:34am
Humble Law Student (mail):
Another point, everyone is missing the bright side to this whole story. If everything Murphy says is true, then for once our government showed remarkable competence! Granted, the effort was misdirected. But, if the government could arrange to have him suffer a few minute wait, and also coordinate with baggage handlers to temporarily lose his luggage on the way back no less(without anyone selling the Bush admin out), then I am brightly optimistic about our abilities to fight the war on terror. Go us!
4.11.2007 10:39am
Jeek:
ReVonna, it shows poor manners to hang around trolling where you are obviously not wanted.
4.11.2007 10:56am
Houston Lawyer:
I'm just waiting for Hillary to pull out Mr. Murphy as more evidence of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

I have my VRWC secret decoder ring, do you?
4.11.2007 10:59am
NRWO:
Does a search for the truth warrant being called a blogger who "wants to make excuses for the government"?

As Orin implies below, the ordeal may be a case of name mix up:

"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?"

I think Orin's style is to wrestle with possibilities and evidence when the truth is not obvious, see, e.g., his blogs on Gonzalez and AG firings, radiation surveillance, NSA searches, and torture.

Given his style, I suspect Orin may find himself being criticized by both the left and right on occasion.
4.11.2007 11:16am
JonC:
Prof. Murphy has developed a new theory as to how he may have been taken off the selectee list. His explanation? He complained about his experience in phone calls to friends, which the NSA may have listened in on. The agency then would have quickly removed him from the list, as some sort of cover-up.

You cannot make this stuff up.
4.11.2007 11:19am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Hmm, who knew that a Washington Post reporter would "want to make excuses" for the Bush Administration, too?

Well, they do that a lot, actually. But Lydon's sneers at Prof. Kerr were embarrassing, to Lydon.
4.11.2007 11:19am
WJR:
It's only a matter of time before the Administration takes me out for posting this, but Murphy is one of the first victims of the "Small Potatoes Silencing Policy" that Bush has enacted to silence some of its less well-known critics, in hopes that the chilling effect will trickle up. C-list Bush-critics, you have been warned!!!
4.11.2007 11:28am
Eli Rabett (www):
Seems to me that Prof. Kerr is being criticized for what appears in the comments. Time for another blogger ethics panel.

On the other hand, while there was a T Kennedy on the list there was no S. Brownback. Just like Florida....hmmm

The no find list: 10 million strip searches of 3 year olds. A wonderful Stalinist/Libertarian program in action
4.11.2007 11:39am
New World Dan (www):
Certainly, we're dealing with a paucity of data here, so there's little we can do other than speculate. It may well be that Mr. Murphy had his return flight cleared at the same time he was detained for his initial flight. Likewise, it's quite possible, and indeed, probable, that false positives trigger a review process that might get a name removed from the list. I find that more likely than the explanation that the NSA was tapping his phone.

As for how Mr. Murphy got his name on the list in the first place, there are a great many possibilities that I won't go into. The accusation of retaliation for an anti-Bush speach sounds both a bit far fetched and, yet, par for the course. Certainly, it's the sort of behavior that the Bush administration seems to cultivate in their loyalists.
4.11.2007 11:41am
AntonK (mail):
More good info here: Murphy's Law?
4.11.2007 11:42am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
JonC, that's the perfect cap for this situation! If he can just work in a CIA visit to his home he can sell his story to Hollywood!
4.11.2007 11:53am
strategichamlet (mail):
"it's quite possible, and indeed, probable, that false postives trigger a review process that might get a name removed from the list"

My understanding is that this is incorrect. I have a friend on the list who goes through the same rigamarole every time she flies.
Speaking of which, a lot of people seem to know someone whose name is on the list. How many people do we actually think are on there, 100,000, a million? When they're throwing "T. Kennedy"s on there 100,000 seems small.
I had hope at the beginning that this story would lead to a reexamination of the no-fly list and a series of articles about how useless it actually is.
4.11.2007 11:55am
JB:
Can people stop responding to Revonna, or can her posts stop being deleted? It's really a minor thing, but it's disconcerting to see people replying to comments that aren't there.
4.11.2007 12:07pm
Kevin P. (mail):
I have an alternate explanation: this was an attempt by the secret environmental faction in the White House to reduce global warming by getting Prof. Murphy to travel by a green friendly train instead of by a CO2-emitting aircraft.

I think this is at least as plausible as Mr. Murphy's own theory.

By the way, can anyone explain why Cindy Sheehan is not on the no-fly list? I mean, she is camping outside the President's private residence and she still hasn't made it onto the no-fly list.
4.11.2007 12:20pm
OK Lawyer:
While I tend to agree that Mr. Murphy's name on this list is almost certainly a coincidence of having a fairly common name, BUT, what if it's not?

One of the major problems with this list (not counting the utterly useless security value) is its secrecy. What if someone responsible for adding names on the list did target him specifically? We can't know one way or another without knowing more about the list. That's the story, to me.
4.11.2007 1:02pm
k parker (mail):
JK,
As a critic of the administration, this story is starting to get embarrassing. I'm really surprised that people are talking this so seriously.
I was going to say that Murphy has already cashed the check from Karl Rove, but in reality Rove was surely smart enough to pay him in cash, using small, unmarked bills...

:-)
4.11.2007 1:03pm
Montie (mail):
So, is this a vicious Bush Administration conspiracy to reduce the time that their opponents must sit in the airport lobby? Hmm...perhaps I should make a public anti-Bush speech.

Of course, if the good Professor had access to the airport lounge, I can better understand his constrination.
4.11.2007 1:15pm
Montie (mail):

One of the major problems with this list (not counting the utterly useless security value) is its secrecy.


Get rid of the secrecy and the security value declines to zero. If everyone knows exactly what triggers a names placement and all of the names on the list, then it is relative easy for a terrorist to avoid the triggers and pick a different alias.
4.11.2007 1:17pm
William Tanksley (mail):
Personally, I'm a member only of the half-vast right-wing conspiracy. But I digress.

"Issues of efficacy and government competence aside, questions, such as how such lists are populated and whether or not ones presence on the list may be used in some prejudicial manner now or in the future, are never raised."

You're not serious. Those questions are never raised? I definitely agree that those issues have not been addressed at all (much less adequately), but those issues are obvious and raised in every case that I've seen. And of course, the entire purpose of the list is to be used in a prejudicial fashion, so we don't have to invent a worry... It's here right now.

I suspect you and I agree on this one point, but I'm just puzzled as to the point of your post.
4.11.2007 1:20pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Isn't this how the whole Plame affair started? I can see it now...

Professor Murphy's wife is a big contributor the Lyndon LaRouche for President Campaign. Chris Wallace calls Karl Rove to discuss this. Mr. Rove says, "Yeah, I heard that, too." Wallace does some fact checking and airs the story. A special prosecutor is assigned to see if any criminal acts were commited when Rove discussed Mrs. Murphy's contributions. It's immediately apparent that no laws were broken, but they eventually get Harriet Meiers on an obstruction of justice charge for deleting archived e-mails.

Does anyone else think Bush's hands are tied here, and that they can't respond because the the Plame "scandal." If this story continues to percolate, won't a response by Bush just be viewed as a viscous attack on free speech?
4.11.2007 1:30pm
Sigivald (mail):
Re. the "Selectee" vs "No Fly" issue, I remember reading from back when the Ted Kennedy flap happened, and in every explanation before that, that the "No Fly" list does not mean "No Fly" (and is thus horribly misnamed).

People on the "No Fly" list still get to fly, by all available accounts - they just get extra searches, checks, and annoyance, often quite a bit of it.

That's an important distinction to make, assuming the information is correct, if only because it makes it clear that getting on a plane doesn't mean you're not on the list. (It also means that the list isn't the burden it would be if it really was a prohibition on flying, though it's still burdensome.)

I would personally love to see actual investigation of how many "Administration Critics" are on it (if only via interview or following them as they fly; anyone on the List should be searched and questioned every time, no?) to either (in order of likelihood)

A) put this stupid rumor/slur to rest

or

B) make the people who control the list answer some Very Tough Questions, and make the whole thing more transparent, which is necessary if it's being abused for political ends.

(I think the A) alternative far more likely, both because the list is - by the available accounts - controlled by career bureaucrats without a political axe to grind for the Administration, and relatedly because if they were given orders to enter names for political reasons there'd be huge incentives to report it.

I mean, instant media stardom and expensive book deals, and the patriotic satisfaction of uncovering real dirty-dealing and subverting a security process for political ends? Neither a greedy bastard nor a Patriot should balk at it!)
4.11.2007 1:39pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
DRWN, I cannot imagine that the President (or even his spokespeople) could be expected to respond to this non-story. But even if this were important, I don't believe his "hands are tied." There are none of the complicating issues here like there was in the Plame case (I'm thinking primarily of all the journalists claiming privilege.)

Although, I wouldn't mind if the Whitehouse spokesman made some comedy about this if he were asked about it during a briefing. Honestly, this is a comic gold-mine:

--A presumably intelligent professor takes the word of a counter clerk.
--Professor thinks he's being retaliated against.
--A presumably intelligent professor thinks that the Administration cares about him so much that they'll lose his luggage.
--A presumably intelligent professor thinks the NSA is listening to his phone calls.

There's plenty of material here.
4.11.2007 1:47pm
Davebo (mail):

She suggests that Murphy was probably just on the "selectee" list, not the No-Fly list, both because he was allowed to board the flight and because he wasn't even questioned on the return flight.


The reporter is a bit confused about how the no fly list works (or doesn't to be more accurate).

Without commenting on Murphy's claim which I agree is a bit weak. As a person on the no fly list myself I can assure you I'm always allowed to board my flight and have never been questioned other than the usual "did you pack your bags" etc.

Airlines do have to generate some special documentation to allow those on the list to fly but most have automated the process through software modifications.

Essentially, the list is a sad joke.
4.11.2007 1:52pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Davebo: You're not on the 'No Fly' list. You're on a watch list. If you were on 'No Fly', you would not be permitted to fly under any circumstance.
4.11.2007 2:03pm
wooga:
I hit every red light on my way to work this morning, the day AFTER I made some posts on an obscure blog complaining about my local government officials. Somebody else who makes a similar commute from me, but didn't make any blog posts yesterday, did not hit every green light.

Therefore, following Murphy's logic, I was late for work because the evil local officials are retaliating against me!


Anyone who doubts me is a kool-aid drinking right wing nazi haliburton chimp wing......
4.11.2007 2:05pm
Mark Field (mail):

Get rid of the secrecy and the security value declines to zero.


Declines to zero? I think it never had any security value.
4.11.2007 2:08pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Davebo:
Why do you assume the list is "a sad joke" just because it only inconveniences people you know? Maybe the government is perfectly aware that there are 50 Walter Murphys in the world and 49 of them are harmless. They can't identify the one they want by ID card because (a) there is no international ID card, and no required American ID card (i.e. passport) as long as you're not traveling abroad, and (b) forged IDs are easy enough to get hold of. They can't identify the Walter Murphy they want by name and address because it's easy enough to change addresses. So they use name + pictures. And they keep an eye on all 50 Walter Murphys, quickly waving on the 49 they're not interested in, but if #50 ever shows up, they will quietly contact security and have him hauled away in handcuffs. Has this ever happened? I would guess it has. How many times? None of my business, or yours. This is guesswork, but my points should be clear: 1. just because you don't see the systme working doesn't mean it's not working. 2. It may be that generating lots of false positives is the only way to get the occasional true positive they're looking for. Don't the police do the latter all the time? For instance, if a crime victim has a partial license-plate for the perpetrator, don't they check all possible matches, ruling them out one by one as they find that the color or model doesn't match? Wouldn't they in some cases inconvenience innocent people by asking for alibis for those that fit the description and the partially-matched license plate? How is this situation different?
4.11.2007 2:20pm
Davebo (mail):
John Burgess,

Of course people on the no fly list can fly. They just have to id you.


When an airline ticket is purchased, the reservation system compares the passenger's name to the No-Fly list. "False positive" passengers will find a restriction placed in their reservation that prevents them from being issued a boarding pass until the airline has determined whether or not they are the actual person whose name is on the No-Fly List. Passengers are not told when a restriction has been placed on their reservation, and they normally do not find out that anything is unusual until they attempt to check-in for their flight. The passenger must present identification that sufficiently differentiates themselves from the name on the No-Fly list. This can include, but is not limited to, date and place of birth, middle name, citizenship, passport number, etc. Depending on the airline, this clearance can be done either electronically, with the check-in agent keying the information into the system, or a manual procedure where the agent telephones a centralized security office to obtain clearance. Once a "false positive" passenger has been cleared for a flight, the clearance will usually, but not always, apply to the remaining flights on that reservation, including the return.


Notice, once you've been ID'd, you are cleared for the return trip as well. This might clear up some confusion Murphy had about his return trip.

I of course never knew I (or my rather common name at least) was on the list until I was informed of it at Schiphol Airport by KLM representatives who also explained how they modified their system to accomodate the reporting requirements.
4.11.2007 2:36pm
Davebo (mail):
Dr. Weevil, I disagree that the list has any real value and especially that the value it provides is worth the hassles it brings.

Consider these names that are on the list. John Lewis, Robert Johnson, Daniel Brown, James Moore.

These are incredibly common names IMO. The list is next to useless IMO.
4.11.2007 2:41pm
Kevin P. (mail):
davebo:

Of course people on the no fly list can fly. They just have to id you.


Davebo, I think what you mean to say is that people with the same name as someone on the no-fly list can fly after proving that they are not that person.

The actual person on the no-fly list cannot fly, period.

You yourself are not on the no-fly list. Someone else with the same name as you is on the no-fly list.

Am I right?
4.11.2007 3:01pm
Davebo (mail):
Kevin, yes you are right. Or at least that's the theory. Of course, maybe they really did mean me? ;0)

I did do a stint in Saudi Arabia years back. Who knows?
4.11.2007 3:24pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Davebo:
Disagree all you want, but you have no idea how many actual 'No Fly' individuals have been rightly prevented from flying or even arrested, which means you are in no position to say whether it's worth doing or not. Neither am I, of course, but I'm willing to give the TSA the benefit of the doubt.
4.11.2007 3:27pm
Davebo (mail):

Neither am I, of course, but I'm willing to give the TSA the benefit of the doubt.



Not me. But then being in the transportation industry I've had significant dealings with the folks from "Taking Scissors Away".
4.11.2007 3:33pm
Fub:
Mark Field wrote at 4.11.2007 1:08pm:
[somebody else wrote:] Get rid of the secrecy and the security value declines to zero.
Declines to zero? I think it never had any security value.
You obviously don't understand the logic and calculus of security theatre. Allow me to explain.

Theorem #1: Hijackings are bad, and we've got to do something to stop them. A no-fly list is something. Therefore it is the right thing to do.

Theorem #2: Negative existence is impossible to prove empirically in an infinite universe. So the fact that there have been no hijackings since the no-fly list was instituted is proof of its effectiveness. Nobody can prove that it didn't cause the absence of hijackings.

Political science lemma #1: Things feel better when they stop hurting. People who are inconvenienced, or even seriously injured by the no-fly list policy are so relieved when they get to Grandma's, or finally make that important business meeting, that they forget that their injuries were gratuitously inflicted. They will rationalize that, after all, they have arrived safely, and realize that safety is the reason for the policy.

Political science lemma #2: Anybody who questions the necessity for a no-fly list is either a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer. Most people understand this intuitively, and that understanding will eventually be universal when people get used to the policy. So the no-fly list is here to stay, and all those jobs strip searching grannies are safe.

Economic lemma #1: Based on theorem #2 above, there is no way anyone can ever question the need for expanding the numbers of granny strip searchers indefinitely. Only a terrorist event could possibly interrupt monotonic expansion of the policy. But such an event has an upside, as it would plausibly support a need for even more granny strip searchers, Ooops! We let a terrorist get through. We'd better do even more pointless security theatre. Cf: rain dances, garlic to keep away vampires, and other known effective bulwarks against evil.

Economic theorem #2: The more people who are inconvenienced by the policy, the more publicity the policy gets. Therefore the more opportunities for beneficiaries to tout how they are "Keeping America Safe".

Economic theorem #3: Counterproductive policies are forever if the policy makers are careful to develop the right constituency. Just ask any farmer paid for not growing cotton, or any drug cop. The list of such beneficiaries of insanely injurious policies is endless.

I hope this brief and incomplete introduction to the rigorous theory of security theatre has contributed to your understanding of the subject.
4.11.2007 4:17pm
JohnAnnArbor (www):

Much to my surprise, I am personally named and criticized by Lydon as a blogger who "wants to make excuses for the government" by questioning the story. Lydon states that it is just "fascinating" that I would think to question Murphy's belief that he is being harassed for his speech. Unfortunately, Lydon doesn't explain why asking questions reveals a wish to "make excuses for the government" as compared to a wish to figure out the truth.

You interfered with his inalienable right as a professor to play government surveillance victim when he sees fit. No questions or comments allowed!
4.11.2007 6:02pm