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.