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What Exactly Happened at the Albuquerque Airport?:
I wanted to add one last post on the Walter Murphy story, addressing a part that I haven't focused on much before: the details of exactly what happened to Professor Murphy at the airport. (Sorry if this is a bit late; I wrote part of it yesterday morning, and didn't get to finish it until today.) In earlier coverage, I have tended to accept that Professor Murphy's name was in fact on the No-Fly list; but the work of some other bloggers and commenters has suggested that even this is untrue. Let's focus on what we know, based on combining the details of the original Balkinization post with what Murphy told Ryan Singel:
  1. Professor Murphy arrived at the Albuquerque Airport and attempted to check in at the curbside. He was informed that he could not do a curbside check-in.

  2. Professor Murphy inquired as to why he could not get a boarding pass at the curb-side, and was informed that it was because he was on a "Terrorist Watch List."

  3. Murphy then handed his Marine Corps ID to the American Airlines clerk, who then left to show the ID to the TSA.

  4. The American Airlines clerk returned about ten minutes later with Professor Murphy's boarding pass. (The sense I get from the Singel interview is that Murphy is still waiting at the curbside at this point, although it's not entirely clear.)

  5. During the approximately ten-minute wait for a boarding pass, Professor Murphy had a discussion with an American Airlines clerk about why he was selected for the list. The clerk wondered if Murphy has been to a political protest; Murphy stated that he gave an anti-Bush speech; the clerk responded "that'll do it."

  6. On the return flight, Professor received his boarding pass without incident or extra questioning. However, his luggage arrived a few hours late.
  So the evidence here suggests three events that deviate from the unusual (or at least might do so). First, on one leg of the flight, Professor Murphy could not check in curbside and had to wait for ten minutes (apparently while still at the curbside, although that's not entirely clear) before his boarding pass was brought to him. Second, the American Airlines clerks told him (a) that he was on a "Terrorist Watch List," and (b) that in their experience protesting against Bush or giving an anti-Bush speech could get a person on the "Terrorist Watch List." Third, Professor Murphy's luggage arrived a few hours late on the return flight.

  In trying to interpret these events, some background brought out by James Taranto and others is helpful. First, there is no such thing as a "Terrorist Watch List." There are two lists: a No-Fly list and a "selectee" list. As I understand it, if a name appears on the No-Fly list the person is not allowed to board a flight period unless the individual can prove they are not the person who the FBI had in mind when putting the name on the list. So for example, Ted Kennedy could fly even though his name was on the No-Fly list because he could prove he was not the same "T. Kennedy" as the terrorist suspect who used that name as an alias. As I understand it, that has to be done on each check-in for air travel, so if a name is on the No-Fly list people with that naame have to prove they are not that particular person targeted in order to fly.

  On the other hand, the selectee list is a list of individuals who are subject to extra screening for either a particular flight or all flights for any number of reasons. Those reasons may include buying a one-way ticket or paying in cash. Also, I know from personal experience that at least as of 2 or 3 years ago, buying a round-trip ticket online that combines multiple airlines would put a person on the selectee list (apparently because the airlines only know of their leg and see it as a one-way flight). Like individuals on the No-Fly list, people on the selectee list for a particular flight are not permitted to check in curbside.

  Why is this background relevant? Well, as Taranto and others have noted, it suggests quite strongly that Murphy was never on the No-Fly list. Rather, he was on the selectee list for one leg of one flight. He was not permitted to check in curbside for only one leg; on the return flight, his name was not on any list at all. Given that so many people have been on selectee list before — I suspect most VC readers have been on the list for a flight at some point — it seems pretty unlikely that Murphy was put on the list for that one leg of one flight for any reason related to his Princeton speech. (Think about it — what kind of oppressive government would punish its critics simply by taking away their right to curbside check-in for a single flight?)

  That leaves two remaning clues, the late luggage and the clerk(s)' statements. I trust that the luggage isn't bothering too many people. Note that the luggage was delayed on the return flight, the leg of the flight when Murphy was not on any list at all. Again, if an evil government is seeking to punish its critics, couldn't they come up with something better than delaying their luggage a few hours?

  This brings us to the most significant evidence: the statements from an American Airlines clerk. Trying to analyze these statements is a bit tricky because we don't know who said them. Unfortunately, Professor Murphy didn't provide or recall any names. But the statements don't seem to provide much support for Murphy's beliefs. First, there is no such thing as a "Terrorist Watch List," which suggests that perhaps the clerk was just playing games or didn't know what he was talking about. Second, even in Murphy's retelling, they at best reflect a clerk's general impressions of the kinds of things that get people on the selectee list — not anything at all specific about Murphy's case. And in our searching over the last few days, we've had a pretty hard time trying to come up with evidence that what the actually was correct. When the story first broke, it seemed possible that an airlines clerk could have a better impression than most of us as to who was made a selectee. But the evidence to back up the clerk's statements didn't seem to surface. (There were a handful of reports of fears that this was happening, but the actual evidence was sparse to nonexistent.) And once again, what are the chances that an evil government would punish someone for their speech by taking away their curbside check in for a single leg of a single flight?

  Anyway, sorry for the long post. But I did want to cover this aspect of the story, as it seems to further confirm that this is much ado about nothing.
dearieme:
One doesn't wish to be rude. Or indulge in stereotyping. But exactly how old is this Murphy chappy? Is he perhaps suffering from terminal testiness?
With a self-importance side salad? And a dash of loopy dressing?
4.13.2007 3:53pm
ed o:
no, no, no, we can't indulge in such thinking. this man is a professor widely admired at Princeton who wrote a great book at some point in his career. thus, he cannot be questioned or even slightly mocked due to his exalted status.
4.13.2007 4:05pm
godfodder (mail):
The beauty of paranoia is that it requires almost nothing to sustain it. A few ambiguous events here and there, and you're good to go. Anything that doesn't reinforce your paranoia is dismissed as "irrelevant."
4.13.2007 4:08pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Sounds like a short chain of events where, "Whatever can go wrong, will." - A phrase another Murphy had coined.
4.13.2007 4:10pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Sounds like a short chain of events where, "Whatever can go wrong, will." - A phrase another Murphy had coined.
4.13.2007 4:10pm
neurodoc:
I don't know if we are talking about the same thing, but I have more than once had the experience of buying a one-way ticket to Washington National and finding "SSSS" print out on my boarding pass, which means one goes through a secondary screening process. Usually a minor annoyance, and once the special attention got me from the end of a long line and through quicker than otherwise would have been the case.

What I thought was most absurd was Professor Murphy's belief that NSA intercepts of his cell phone conversations sprinkled with provocative words like "terrorist" had some direct, fairly prompt effect.
While we know that NSA computers are surveiling telecommunications for possible warnings of terrorist activity, it strains credulity to think that they keyed in on one of his conversations and intervened to bring about a course correction of some sort, e.g., allowed him to board that day or directed his name be removed from a list, on account of it.

An additional fact that would be of interest is to know how often Professor Murphy flies, and when he flew last before the flight(s) with which he encountered his not so grievous inconvience. It was between the time of that last problem-free flight and the recent one that his name was added to a list, and it was during that interval of time that he was targeted? (If NSA is responding in real time to direct that he be taken off a list or allowed to proceed, then are the adding names just as quickly?)

Again, this learned individual appears rather silly.
4.13.2007 4:11pm
AF:
I'm convinced that it's very unlikely that Walter Murphy was targeted because of his speech. However, I don't entirely agree that "this is much ado about nothing." The fact is that the government relies on airline clerks to administer its various no-fly/suspect lists. Therefore, statements by airline clerks, no matter how incorrect or ill-informed they might be, are not wholly insignificant. If you ask someone administering a government program why they did what they did and they say it's because of your political views, that's a problem, even if it turns out what they say is not correct.

At a minimum, the government should make sure that airline clerks are trained not to tell passengers that they were put on a list because of their views. If this means revealing more about how the lists are created than is presently revealed, that needs to happen. Walter Murphy might be overly credulous, and his credulousness might be particularly striking from someone of his stature, but in the United States people shouldn't have to do research to discover that their constitutional rights weren't violated.
4.13.2007 4:18pm
r78:
I'm not particulary interested in what appears to be some sort of petty academic blogosphere squabble, but the one thing that caught my attention was Mr. Kerr's discussion of the terrorist watch list/no fly list/selectee list.

It appears that Kerr's discussion of these lists (and Tarantos) is nothing more than unsourced, unverified speculation and guesswork. The fact that there are one or more lists or mechanisms out there which may prevent wholly innocent people from flying (or at least subject them to additional delays is considerably more distressing than the specifics of whether or not this Murphy guy is paranoid nut.

But I guess that is the US in 2007 - libertarians and conservatives busy themselves with discussions about Mr. Murphy rather than fighting against unchecked and opaque exercises of government power.
4.13.2007 4:20pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
f78, that sounds like just another variation of "You should talk about what I want you to talk about."

In this case, it's not as if we expect liberals to actually check and see if Murphy's story was credible or not. As we witnessed in the comments here at the VC, libs are more than ready to believe anything with only the slightest prompting. That left the more level headed with a specific task: investigating Murphy's story for plausibility. The story did bring up another question: "What do we think about no-fly lists in general?" but that's no reason to ignore the first issue.

If you would rather "busy yourself with discussions of unchecked and opaque exercises of government power" then why not do that and quit your whining here?
4.13.2007 4:32pm
r78:
And then there is this howler in the Tranto piece:

federal terrorist watch lists are compiled not by political appointees but by career professionals at the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, who, according to Hawley, would balk at any effort to list people for political reasons.

Yes we all know how career government professionals would never be influenced in any way by political reasons.

Good god, what turnip truck did Taranto fall off of?
4.13.2007 4:33pm
T_C:
I have had the experience of being selected for additional screening four flights in a row over a few week period. I, too, was convinced that I had been put on some list, but I have not been 'selected' since. In retrospect, all of the flights were either one-way, changed or scheduled on very short notice, or combining multiple airlines. (first I've heard that multiple airlines will do it, btw) My point is that Murphy's assumption that he was on some kind of list is understandable, but probably incorrect.
4.13.2007 4:43pm
Michael Tinkler (mail) (www):
But I guess that is the US in 2007 - libertarians and conservatives busy themselves with discussions about Mr. Murphy rather than fighting against unchecked and opaque exercises of government power.



That's right - Fight the Power!

I never cease to be amazed at the calls that go out from both right and left that other folks drop everything and Fight Some Power just because those other folks have blogs. You know - Why Don't Feminists Challenge Evil Muslim Oppression of Women? Why Don't Libertarians Fight Unchecked and Opaque Exercises of Government Power?

Me, I have a job. I blog about MY opinions, and blogging isn't really isn't all that time consuming - unlike battles against the Power. I don't think of my blogging as "busying myself" about anything much, but my agenda is full enough already without accepting assignments from strangers.
4.13.2007 4:43pm
Montie (mail):

The fact that there are one or more lists or mechanisms out there which may prevent wholly innocent people from flying (or at least subject them to additional delays is considerably more distressing than the specifics of whether or not this Murphy guy is paranoid nut).


That is a rather bizarre point. Why should we work ourselves into a tizzy because the government may misuse a relatively innocuous power? The government has several other more dangerous powers (e.g., the military and police) that it may misuse as well.
4.13.2007 4:44pm
AF:
My point is that Murphy's assumption that he was on some kind of list is understandable, but probably incorrect.

It wasn't an assumption. He was told he was on a list. His error is in believing what he was told, not in assuming he was on a list.
4.13.2007 4:50pm
r78:
Tinkler - I don't particularly care how you busy yourself but if you believe that a specific case of possible (though improbable) abuse of government authority is more important than the mechanisms and the government programs that may have caused the specific case - and may cause such cases in the future - you are welcome to your logic.

Montie -


Why should we work ourselves into a tizzy because the government may misuse a relatively innocuous power? The government has several other more dangerous powers (e.g., the military and police) that it may misuse as well.

Tizzy?

Anyway, if you think that preventing citizens from travelling between states is innocuous, I suspect that we have different views of the constitution. Of course, there is always the point that there is nothing in the world preventing folks from walking from state to state.

But, two other things, the police power would have very shortly come into play if Murphy attempted to get on that plane when he had not yet been given permission to do so by the airline or the the government, so the abuse of police authority is what this is about.
4.13.2007 4:58pm
James Dillon (mail):

As we witnessed in the comments here at the VC, libs are more than ready to believe anything with only the slightest prompting.

Not all of us. There were some who realized that the Murphy story was transparent nonsense from the beginning, though I must admit I'm disappointed by how quickly some left-wing blogs and comments jumped on this story without stopping to question its superficial implausibility and inconsistency.
4.13.2007 5:01pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
James, you're right. I just tarred a whole buncha people. My apologies. I was irked by r87's "aw, shucks, I guess this is Amerikkka in 2007" comment. My bad.
4.13.2007 5:08pm
axcv (mail):
I think it's odd that so much energy has been spent, not only in the original posts on this issue but also in the comments to the post, in trying to delicately parse the particulars of what took place and in suggesting that Murphy was "paranoid" (godfooder) "self-important" and "loopy" (dearieme)"absurd" (neurodoc) and "more than ready to believe anything with only the slightest prompting" (Gabriel Malor).

Perhaps this stop really *was* nothing, and perhaps Murphy jumped to conclusions. Even if that's all true, what I don't understand is: is there any comparable energy being spent on investigating the actual practice of placing people on no-fly lists in the first place? It's obvious from reading this post that none of us knows the specifics of how the no-fly list works, who exactly is in charge of it, how individuals get on or off of it, and so on. In the bigger scheme of things, shouldn't that be what we're carefully trying to study, and not the mundane and essentially irrelevant details of Murphy's encounter? It may be a liberal cliche to "speak truth to power" but I would certainly take a little of that over what I'm seeing here, which is a group of people mocking a person merely for suggesting that the government overstepped.
4.13.2007 5:16pm
reneviht:

Of course, there is always the point that there is nothing in the world preventing folks from walking from state to state.

Or taking a (much cheaper, albeit less convenient, less comfortable, and longer) bus ride.

Why should we work ourselves into a tizzy because the government may misuse a relatively innocuous power?

We're libertarians. That's what we do.
4.13.2007 5:17pm
TallDave (mail) (www):
we've had a pretty hard time trying to come up with evidence that what the actually was correct.

Zuh?
4.13.2007 5:18pm
reneviht:

It's obvious from reading this post that none of us knows the specifics of how the no-fly list works, who exactly is in charge of it, how individuals get on or off of it, and so on.

I found http://www.tsa.gov/research/privacy/faqs.shtm which links to http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/counterrorism/faqs.htm fairly quickly. It doesn't really have a useful answer to your question:

Who gets included in the TSDB?

Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.

It looks like being placed on one of these lists is all up to the judgment of the people who make the list. It looks like that's the Terrorist Screening Center. Not really helpful for answering your question, although any process like this would need to rely heavily on at least one person's judgment.
4.13.2007 5:27pm
jim:
Many thanks to Professor Kerr for taking the time to do this story well. While sceptical, until his coverage I was potentially quite concerned, because I don't easily give the administration the benefit of the doubt these day.

But, for all the people criticizing Professor Murphy, consider: Everybody has that one story about that one time that really outrageous thing happened to them which they tell all their friends. I suspect a decent fraction of those stories would be less climactic than their tellers imagine if you had an army of bloggers and a high-ranking government official on call to fact-check them.
4.13.2007 5:29pm
DG:
One correction to OK's post - Murphy was almost certainly at the ticket counter during his "10 minute wait". Airline ticket agents ("clerks" in Murphy's parlance) do not typically run to the curb when someone gets the dreaded SSSS, which happens hundreds of times a day at a busy airport. Also, there is little or no human intervention for someone to get SSSS-ed - its all done via the airline's ticketing systems based on a fairly simple (and largely reverse engineered at this point) heuristic. That is very different from the no-fly list, where names are added by government employees, and seemingly, no one has the power to remove a name.

All of this has been endlessly publicized, making both the selectee system (SSSS) and the no-fly list totally useless. What smart terrorist wouldnt toss a boarding pass with SSSS right in the trash? Heck, a smart terrorist would book his flight to avoid the designation, since its now well-known how you get on and off the selectee list. As far as the no-fly list - I'm pretty confident bad guys have figured out not to fly under their own names. "thank you for flying with us today, mr. bin laden!" we will not hear.
4.13.2007 5:49pm
r78:
Renevit and Axcv are looking at this throught the right lens.

Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.

Do you feel comfortable having some low level government employee's interpretation of that horribly written paragraph serve as the basis for determining whether or not you may fly on a commercial aircraft?

I could almost understand if everyone else in the world were permitted to board without check but people falling into that category would be subjected to xrays, metal detectors, patdowns, etc. That might make sense. But instead everyone in the world is subjected to those intrusions and the people who are suspected actually being dangerous don't even get to go through that process. Among other things, doesn't that reveal that the government understands that all of the pre-flight passenger screening is totally ineffective?

But the larger point - it is a shame that people shortsightedly see this as some sort of liberal/conservative issue. That's crap. It is about government authority and how the public can judge whether or not the authority is appropriate.

I am not now (as far as I know) engaged in "preparation" for terrorism. But I don't have any doubt that a few years from now the fact I own and shoot .50 caliber rifles, have quantities of "explosives" (aka powder I use for reloading) in my house could very easily put me on that list.
4.13.2007 5:53pm
Lost Luggage:
I usually check in curbside, and the employees there are nice and helpful and I usually end up cracking jokes with them about sports, the news, the obnoxious people in front of me, whatever. I've never gotten the impression that they were likely to be privy to the workings of the no-fly lists, though. I imagine that the good professor, with an inflated sense of self-importance, didn't realize that the check-in clerk's statements were just off-hand statements or jokes.
4.13.2007 5:57pm
David Walser:
For r78, et al, who think we should be spending more time on the question of whether or not government should have the power to "keep perfectly innocent people off of planes", I have the following question: What would you could set the proper policy and procedures into place? Not too many years ago, it appeared to many of us that our airport security measures were too lax. How do you propose that we protect the public, both flying and non-flying in an age where civilian airplanes can be used as flying bombs, while at the same time not overburdening the traveling public?
4.13.2007 6:22pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
While selecting certain passengers for heightened screening, if done using appropriate criteria, is perfectly reasonable, I don't understand how it is possible to have a "no fly" list of the present sort. Isn't it a Due Process violation? What right does the government have to prevent someone from flying merely because they think he or she might be dangerous, without due process of law? With the possible exception perhaps of martial arts experts, so long as a person is searched sufficiently carefully as to assure that he or she has no weapons, it should be safe to allow even dedicated enemies of the United States to fly. Furthermore, I would think that a large percentage of the people who really do constitute a danger would be subject to arrest, if not for other crimes or immigration violations, then for conspiracy. So the present system seems both pointless and unconstitutional.
4.13.2007 6:25pm
Montie (mail):
r78 said:

Anyway, if you think that preventing citizens from travelling between states is innocuous, I suspect that we have different views of the constitution. Of course, there is always the point that there is nothing in the world preventing folks from walking from state to state.


Is this about the government's broad ability to regulate air travel? Or are you saying that there is a overriding right-to-fly/travel without hinderance from the government in the Constitution?

BTW, an airline keeping deciding to keep a passenger off of its plane is consistent with Libertarian principles.
4.13.2007 6:29pm
r78:

What would you could set the proper policy and procedures into place? Not too many years ago, it appeared to many of us that our airport security measures were too lax. How do you propose that we protect the public, both flying and non-flying in an age where civilian airplanes can be used as flying bombs, while at the same time not overburdening the traveling public?

That's easy - just scrap all of the pre-flight security, except metal detectors. No, I am not joking.

If by "flying bombs" you mean the 9/11 scenario where passengers overpower passengers and crew and take over the cockpit - the reinforced doors have pretty much taken care of that.

If anyone want's to bring a plane down, all they have to do is check a bag containing a bomb and a timer or an altitude switch. Only a handful of US airports fully screen checked baggage.

Airport security is a joke because it is overly intrusive to people who present no threat whatsoever while simultaneously doing nothing to prevent anyone from bringing down a plane easily.
4.13.2007 6:51pm
r78:

BTW, an airline keeping deciding to keep a passenger off of its plane is consistent with Libertarian principles.

That would almost make sense if it was the airline making these decisions, but you do understand that these procedures and the no fly list is the work of the government, don't you?
4.13.2007 6:52pm
Kazinski:
Like most others I've been on the selectee list a few times, but in one occasion I was subjected to much harsher treatment than even Professor Murphy. At that time they did the selectee extra screening at boarding time, not at the screening gate, neither the gate agent nor I noticed the dreaded SSSS so I boarded put by bags in the overhead and got a seat in the back of the plane. For no apparent reason the plane sat at the gate for 10 minutes past the departure time, until after some activity up front they paged me, I pressed the Stewardess call button and a TSA employee came back told be to gather all my belongings and he escorted me off the plane. Then they took 10 minutes to thoroughly search me and all my stuff, and they gave me the distinct pleasure of letting me get back on the plane and walk past 25 full rows of passengers wondering who the jerk was that made them sit on the tarmac for 20 minutes.

But even after being subjected to treatment harsher than a Guantanamo detainee (I got peanuts instead of a 4000 calorie meal), I am not so pompous as the professor as to think it was directed at me personally, even though I was spending the weekend in the mountains in what I refer to as "my Kazinski(sic) cabin", and my nickname specifically refers to Ted Kaczynski.
4.13.2007 6:53pm
Freddy Hill:
Orin, another thing: As far as I remember, most service personnel at curbside check-ins are not airline employees but skycaps that work for a tip. There may be an airline employee supervising the operation, but the people picking up your bag, tagging it and finding your reservation in the computer are normally skycaps. If an alert message pops up in the screen, it is likely to just say, "Call a supervisor."

They can speculate as much as they want, but it's just that: speculation.
4.13.2007 7:58pm
r78:

But even after being subjected to treatment harsher than a Guantanamo detainee (I got peanuts instead of a 4000 calorie meal), I am not so pompous as the professor

I am just guessing that there are several detainees at Guantanamo who would trade their 4 years of detention for your 20 minutes of inconvenience.
4.13.2007 8:44pm
JK:
Ok the guy is a bit delusional and thinks the government is out to get him. Belief that the government is targeting you is one of the most common psychological delusions. This story doesn't prove anything besides the fact that one individual, who is gifted in many ways, is a bit loopy. Time to move on.
4.13.2007 8:51pm
neurodoc:
Professor Murphy: I flew back without having trouble getting a boarding pass. But when I was in Princeton, I had breakfast with former student — a Republican congressman, and called a number of friends in my academic life, and the NSA monitors a lot of phone calls, especially cell phone calls, so I tried to use the words that might trip their computers like starting calls by saying, "I'm on the terrorist watch list" and "I've been criticizing George Bush" and if indeed these things are monitored, maybe they heard this, I don't know.

axcv, I can understand your desire to redirect the focus from the specifics of Professor Murphy's case to larger issues pertaining to anti-terrorism measures. The professor wasn't "merely...suggesting that the government overstepped," on the basis of so little, though. He seems to have been convinced that he had been targeted by the government on account of his political statements, and convinced others over on the Left of it too. Now, do you think his speculation about an NSA role in clearing him for his return flight Princeton to Albuquerque (but not ensuring the prompt delivery of his baggage to him!) plausible, that is non-absurd? I find it wholly implausible, even absurd, and I think it fair to say that in this he has made himself look silly.
4.13.2007 9:17pm
wooga:
But I don't have any doubt that a few years from now the fact I own and shoot .50 caliber rifles, have quantities of "explosives" (aka powder I use for reloading) in my house could very easily put me on that list.

r78, you have nothing to fear - Janet Reno is not running for president :)
4.13.2007 9:25pm
Chris B (mail):
If you want a better response from (at least some) conservatives and libertarians in regards to no-fly and other selective screen lists as an undue exercise of government power, focus on the fact that 'the government' is doing this, not the 'Chimpy McHilterburon' administration.
4.13.2007 9:28pm
zock:
Just happened to read this story and skimmed the responses, and you might be interested in a data point.

It's possible this incident may have nothing to do with the person or any govt. "watch list". It may be nothing more than a computer program automatically flagging ticket transactions based on some combination of travel route and timing. For example, purchasing a ticket for 1-way travel, on short notice, may get the attention of an airline, especially on routes that have heavy contraband traffic. It could happen.

Take one vocal passenger, mistakenly flagged by such a software program, and mix in a plurality of obedient airport employees following procedure, and you can have issues.
4.13.2007 9:47pm
Tom Maguire (mail):
...what kind of oppressive government would punish its critics simply by taking away their right to curbside check-in for a single flight?

My four part answer - post-liberation Iraq, Katrina, Miers, Gonzalez.

That said, I fully accept the point of this post.
4.13.2007 9:57pm
JA (mail):
My personal experience doesn't quite jibe w/ Mr. Kerr's explanation of the TSA lists.

Beginning in 2002 (ironically, shortly after having participated in a march protesting the impending war in Iraq), I was denied and continue to be denied permission to check in curbside or electronically for ANY and EVERY flight I book (including standard domestic round trip flights paid in advance by credit card).
When I go to the ticket counter, I am consistently told that my name is on a "Watch List", and I must submit my driver's license and wait until the agent enters some information that I guess must 'clear' me to fly.

This doesn't sound like the criteria that Mr Kerr describes for the Selectee list...does this mean that my fine WASP name appears on the actual vaunted No-Fly list itself? If so, the clearance procedure seems awfully casual (and yet, as one might suspect, highly inconvenient at large overcrowded metropolitan airports. In practical terms it means that I must arrive at the airport at least one hour earlier than my less-scrutinized peers to insure that I indeed make my flight).

This also begs the question: in over five years, the FBI/TSA has not determined that I'm not the same guy? Do they even bother to vet the names on the list?
If the simple information on my license is enough to clear me for flight, why isn't it enough to remove me from the list?

Inquiring minds would like to know...

(And yes, I have been informed that there is a procedure for petitioning to have your name removed. It is fairly involved, and begins with a prominently displayed caveat indicating that there is no guarantee that following through with the procedure will result in removal of your name...)
4.13.2007 10:04pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
First, the title is incorrect. Anyone who lives here knows it is called The Albuquerque Sunport...or just Sunport.

Second, let's just say that a clerk actually told him that an anti-Bush speech got him on a list. I cannot believe that there are some many idiots actually would fall for that nonsense that you would get on some list because you criticized Bush. Now, if Michael Moore were in prison, along with the other Bush critics who claim they have no freedom of speech on shows that have audiences in the hundreds of thousands or millions, I'd be concerned.

I cannot believe that people didn't laugh off Professor Murphy as a crank the minute they heard the story. Man, the Bush-haters will believe anything.
4.13.2007 10:39pm
Lance.tmq2 (mail) (www):
I used to frequently land at the Albuquerque AP for fuel, etc. during my cross-country flights while in flight school in AZ back in the late 90s. It was little more than a lonely Class "Charlie" AP. It's hard to believe that hole-in-the-wall would be part of any conspiracy, but stranger things have happened.
4.13.2007 11:00pm
DG:
JA: You are, strange as it seems, on the no-fly list. Which is really the "prove you aren't the guy on the no-fly list" list. Some folks whose names are on the list literally carry letters from the TSA certifying their non-terrorist status.
4.13.2007 11:58pm
ruidh (www):
"As I understand it, if a name appears on the No-Fly list the person is not allowed to board a flight period unless the individual can prove they are not the person who the FBI had in mind when putting the name on the list."

Does this make sense? How can anyone prove that they aren't the person the FBI had in mind? There are a lot of common names on the list. These people get the third degree every time they fly, but they all eventually get on. Does the FBI even know who they meant? Is clearing the person something as simple as checking a birthday against the list? Otherwise how in the world would anyone get cleared. And if that were the case, it could be done without alerting the subject to anything being amiss.

I suppose Bruce Schierer is right -- all this is nonsense.
4.14.2007 12:24am
BJay:
Firstly, I find it amusing that critics claim the Bush administration or government at large is grossly incompetent and that were all under surveillance.

Given that millions of illegals are using forged IDs and SS# to work, ID theft is on the rise, and millions of us share common surnames, how would screeners know which listed John Smith is standing in front of them?

Last June I moved to the East Coast and was denied a kiosk boarding pass by AA on my departing flight, even though I am a frequent flier and AAdvantage member. The trigger was a one-way ticket without luggage on a non-stop transcontinental flight.

I arrived at the gate area six minutes later than the couple behind me in line at the kiosk; with an hour's wait before boarding what would have been the point making a scene? Passengers who do so only make it more difficult for themselves by arousing suspicion, delay others and if they distract screening personnel may cause a fatal oversight.

Try flying out of Leonardo, Heathrow or the granddaddy of passenger inconvenience: Ben-Gurion and you'll soon appreciate the relative ease with which we fly.

Personally I think our airport security is much too lax and we're allowed to carry on far too much unnecessary junk.

Bring it on, I'll cope, but then I was scheduled to fly home for Christmas on Dec 22, 1988 on PA 103, my usual outbound leg from Europe. The photos of the PA cockpit and cabin lying in Lockerbie's dreadful field of death clearly show my regular window seat and I had flown "Maid of the Seas" out of JFK a few months earlier.

Americans enjoy the highest level of personal freedom and security in the world, we need to stop whining about very inconvenience or perceived slight. We lived in Italy during the Red Brigade's reign of terror when even middle management families such as ours had to live in guarded compounds, drive armored vehicles, were accompanied by armed guards and Politzia armed half-tracks were parked at major intersections and buildings. After Moro's body was found paranoia and surveillance was over the top.

After the Rome airport massacre in 1985 Italian airports seriously ramped up security. After checking in and clearing outbound customs, a huge hassle in it's own right, screened passengers were held in isolated waiting areas separated into groups of ten stood over by two heavily armed Politzia and an edgy Alsatian. Passengers were then herded onto buses and driven to remote tarmac pads and boarded in groups of twenty. Armed guards stood in the aisle every ten rows, lavs were locked and all carry ons, including handbags, had to remain stowed over head. No standing or leaving the seat. Talking wasn't allowed during push back, taxiing or take-off. On short haul commuter flights the lavatories remained off-limits and no refreshments were served. Now that's inconvenience folks.

Professor Murphy needs to man up and check his ego, it's not about him, me or you, all of us are at risk and adding to the confusion at airports iflies in the face of common sense and public safety.
4.14.2007 1:42pm
e:
Too late to the conversation, but an allegation doesn't need support to contribute to conventional wisdom. I've heard several profs at my school suggest that priority for bar admission background checks depends on political affiliation. As a former military member, and given the number of pending checks, I'm pretty sure it's ridiculous. The question is whether to tolerate the repetition of "wisdom" or disrupt a class for every nonsensical political jab.
4.14.2007 6:55pm
e:
On the otherhand, security is a balance that results in some real inconvenience. I'm glad I share my name with only a few others in the world.
4.14.2007 7:07pm
Phineas Page (mail):
JA -


I was in the same situation for several years. I was unable to check in online or using kiosks. I had to go up to the desk, show them my ID, and be on my way. No further screening was required.

As I understand it, the issue is that someone with my name (or a similar name?) was on the list, but they had a different birthdate listed. Showing the ID indicated I was not actually that person and I could proceed.

I'm still kind of curious as to what someone with my name is doing on the list (it's very scandanavian).

One day online checkin started working again and I haven't had problems since. The Southwest employees were always very polite and apologetic.
4.15.2007 12:54pm
Liz47 (mail):
"First, there is no such thing as a "Terrorist Watch List." There are two lists: a No-Fly list and a "selectee" list."

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which was created in 2004, maintains the central repository of over 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them. The Washington Post reported on this on Feb. 15, 2006. NCTC provides the list to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center who provides it to other agencies, like the TSA. The TSA uses this "terrorist watch list" (as the Post referred to it) for its no-fly list, the State Dept. uses it for its visa program, the Dept. of Homeland Security uses it for border crossings, and the National Crime Information Center distributes it to police.
4.19.2007 6:01pm