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Update on the Walter Murphy Story:
Regular readers will remember a series of posts back in April about the flying experience of Walter Murphy, a Professor Emeritus at Princeton, who felt that his name was placed on a Terrorist Watch List as retaliation for a speech he gave that was critical of the Bush Administration. Two months have now passed, and I was wondering what had happened to Professor Murphy with any flights he might have had in the interim.

  I contacted Professor Murphy by e-mail, and he graciously agreed to update us on his flying experience since March. Here is his e-mail:
I've flown twice since the debacle in March, to Austin in April, TX, and to Charleston, SC, in late May. On both occasions, I was initially denied a boarding pass, once when I tried to check in via the WWW, once when I tried to check in via a kiosk in the airport, and both times when I tried to check-in at the counter. I was fortunate that, in each of the 3 instances, I encountered a clerk (twice for AA, once for Continental) who was willing to take up the cudgels for me. Eventually, I was issued boarding passes. As a judge in the audience at Princeton in September 06 warned me, after I publicly criticized Bush, "these people will find a way to punish you." Fortunately, I always carry an ID card showing I'm a retired Marine Colonel and that has, so far, made clerks if not the people from Homeland Security, sympathetic.
  Professor Murphy adds that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Henry Waxman, is looking into the story and is collecting evidence of other such cases.
SP:
Again, he gives the Bush administration far too much credit. Cindy Sheehan has been able to fly to anywhere - including Venezuela - without harassment.
6.10.2007 11:31pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
This doesn't make much more sense than his last reports. If he IS on the no-fly list and a clerk let him fly anyway, that clerk probably needs to be fired. I'm a bit confused as well how he was denied boarding 3 times for 2 flights.

He also doesn't give us any details about his flights and when he bought the tickets. Was he flying alone on a one-way ticket? That always raises a security red flag calling for special checks. If he bought tickets at the last minute, that also might result in denial of curb-side check-in.
6.10.2007 11:51pm
Constantin:
This guy has seen The Truman Show a few too many times.
6.11.2007 12:10am
wm13:
Prof. Murphy is a lunatic. It's frightening to think that he might be teaching our children. My only consolation is that my children, at least, regard their teachers with the same bemused contempt with which I regarded the draft dodgers and Marxist airheads who taught me. (Which is, let it be said, the same bemused contempt with which my mother regarded the fellow travelers who taught her, and the bemused contempt with which my grandfather regarded the copperheads who taught him.)
6.11.2007 12:25am
Truth Seeker:
He really has no grasp of reality and continuing to bring this up is cruel!
6.11.2007 12:38am
Erasmus (mail):
PatHMV, if flying alone on a one-way ticket raises red flags, then I think we have a serious competency problem at homeland security. As much as I hate to ever give the Administration credit, I have a hard time believing any time someone flies on a one-way ticket alone, red flags are raised.
6.11.2007 12:40am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Erasmus... not "red flags" in the sense that special investigations are conducted, but red flags in the sense that you are marked for the extra screening process, which involves hand searches of your luggage in addition to the normal x-raying, etc. In every flight, the computer selects some passengers for that screening. Some selectees are random, others are the result of profiling. Very few people fly alone, on a one-way ticket. It's an uncommon event. Security checks keep an eye out for uncommon events. Purchasing a ticket at the last minute is also more unusual than purchasing a week or two in advance, and thus also merits special screening most of the time.
6.11.2007 12:59am
Harry Eagar (mail):
I fly alone on a one-way ticket every six months or so and have never had any trouble.
6.11.2007 1:11am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
One way tickets may be unusual, but wouldn't highlighting them suggest that we believe future terrorists will be very short of cash? Or, given that they are not cheap, are overly considerate of the airlines, and not wanting them to waste money on an empty seat?
6.11.2007 1:22am
DRJ (mail):
Can Prof. Murphy provide any corroborating evidence to substantiate his claims? It's suspicious that every flight he has taken has played out the same way - problems with boarding passes followed by extra screening, only to be overridden by compassionate airline clerks who are swayed by Murphy's Marine ID from his younger years. Frankly, I can't believe airline personnel are allowed to override airport security when it comes to boarding commercial aircraft.
6.11.2007 1:27am
DRJ (mail):
It's also hard to believe the airline clerks would try to convince security to let someone fly that security had questions about. Not once but three times in three months, at that.
6.11.2007 1:31am
The Albatross:
I may not be a Princeton professor, but I am a Princeton grad; and I find myself regulary detained and given some extra screening (must be the red hair and blue eyes--I curse that time I spent working in the Bush White House). It usually ends up being me and some grandma. Meanwhile, I have noticed that Tarbash and his friends usually fly on by. Look, I get pulled by all the time, and this included when I was working for "the man" himself. This is a crcok load of bull. Looks like we have another Princton professor who should be watching the birds next to Uncle Junior. In my day at Princeton the only crazy person on campus was Professor Nash--Hey Nash you gonna take this sitting down? You got some competition--there goes my contribution this year.
6.11.2007 2:19am
Kovarsky (mail):
patHMV,

please take some time to read the previous posts, where Professor Murphy's experience and the "details" of his flight are presented meticulously.

Did somebody really say "tarbosh and friends fly on by?" Jesus.
6.11.2007 2:40am
Phil333333:
Wow, some of the comments in this thread are pathetic. I thought VC readers were supposed to be smarter than this.
6.11.2007 7:04am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
Phil333333, you must have missed some of the earlier posts in which the professor insists that the Bush administration was listening in on his phone calls and changed their treatment of him after he gave them an obvious hint that he knows that they're listening and that he is being singled out and targeted. Besides being, well, crazy, you'd have to have a really big ego to think that they'd have enough time to tap the phone calls of some no-name professor who merely criticized them.
6.11.2007 9:08am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Kovarsky... The previous posts detailed the experiences of his previous flights. These are new flights. Unless I've missed a VC post before this e-mail, I'm pretty sure these particular new flights are not detailed elsewhere, coming as they do in a private e-mail in a response to Orin Kerr's request. And yes, he had some more details of his prior experiences in those earlier posts, but he still left out crucial details, and what details he had often seemed to make very little sense. In simple terms, the professor is paranoid, and thus sees any little troubles or hassles he encounters as persecution by someone with evil intent directed toward him.
6.11.2007 9:18am
corneille1640 (mail):
Dear Dave Hardy:

I agree. I'll add that one would think if a terrorist is willing to let himself die in order to murder hundreds of innocent people, he wouldn't mind shelling out the extra hudred dollars or so for a round-trip ticket.
6.11.2007 9:29am
rbj:
The terrorist who planted the truck bomb for the first attack on the WTC did go and to try and get his deposit back. Even if OBL has lots of cash, it isn't an unending supply of cash, they may very well try to save a couple of bucks here and there.
6.11.2007 9:39am
PersonFromPorlock:

Even if OBL has lots of cash, it isn't an unending supply of cash, they may very well try to save a couple of bucks here and there.

Heck, go round-trip and put it on your credit card. You certainly aren't going to be there when the bill arrives!

As far as Professor Murphy's accusations go, since he's going to present them to a House committee with subpoena powers, why not wait until they investigate them? Time enough for comments later.
6.11.2007 9:56am
A.C.:
If Alitalia loses my luggage (which they did just recently), should I see it as a protest by leftist Europeans against right-of-center Americans? If one guy is allowed all this press because the airlines irritate him, imagine what will happen when we ALL start seeing persecution everywhere.
6.11.2007 10:25am
Dave N (mail):
On April 10, someone posting as Malvolio (in related post #5) had the absolute best post I heave ever read on the VC and some of the best satire I have read anywhere because it places Murphy's delusions into perspective. For those who have not read it, here it is:

The scene: a dank cave lit only by flickering sconces. Moans and the clank of heavy chains sound from the dimmest recesses. In center of the cave, a mordant figure in sable robes sits on a throne carved from the living rock.

A factotum scurries toward his master, bent almost double. "Lord Cheney, public opposition to our war of conquest is growing."

The dark lord's voice is barely above a whisper. "This is as anticipated."

"But, Lord, what shall we do?"

Cheney's eyes glow even more reddly as he considers. "How many are foolish enough to oppose us?"

"Millions, mighty Lord, millions."

"Select out one of them for ... special treatment."

The factotum cackles evilly. "Death, my lord?"

There is a pause. "No, death is too good for him. Too quick. We must make an example. Put him on the list for..." He seems to savor the punishment for a moment before pronouncing it, the blackened tongue running over the sharp teeth. "Put him on the list for a five-minute delay on check-in at the airport. But only once. After all, we don't want people to think we're monsters." Something like a laugh, a low Satanic laugh, erupts from the creature on the throne.

The factotum nods gravely and turns to leave, only to hear, "One more thing."

"Yes, Lord?"

"Lose his luggage."
6.11.2007 11:03am
frankcross (mail):
So, the guy who worked in the Bush White House refers to "Tarbash and his friends."

I have no idea about the nature of the name Tarbash, but it makes you wonder.
6.11.2007 11:08am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I despair when I see people nickel-and-diming security precautions to death. Of course it is entirely possible that terrorists might by round-trip tickets. Neither DHS nor I suggest anything different. But when you take a lot of little things like that and put them together, they can provide at least a somewhat more reliable picture of where the greatest risks are, and thus where the most screening should take place. There's no one magic bullet, no single panacea that will result in stopping the terrorists and interfering with no one else, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't put up a few speed bumps and observation posts along the way.
6.11.2007 11:09am
Hoosier:
Apropos of all this-- TS Eliot's statement that most of the bad done in the world is done by people who are trying to make themselves feel important.

Eliot was clearly familiar with university faculty.
6.11.2007 11:17am
LongSufferingRaidersFan (mail):
And of course its all about you, isn't it, professor Murphy.
6.11.2007 11:32am
The Albatross:
Ok apologies for the Tarbash comment. I was trying to think of an over the top caricature to highlight how far I think TSA goes out of their way to avoid the appearance of profiling. For some reason all I could think of was Tarbash the accident-prone Egyptian Magician voiced by Kamal Ahmed from the old Jerky Boys CD. I just have such rotten luck with the security people that my blood always gets up when people complain that they are being somehow singled out for whatever reason. Again, apologies if anyone was offended.
6.11.2007 11:39am
Daniel950:
Albatross,

I recognized the reference to Tarbash immediately. It was a great line. I don't think you need to apologize for anything.

And of course, your underlying point is correct. God forbid we profile. Better to risk another airplane hijacking/suicide attack. The dogma of political correctness demands it.
6.11.2007 12:00pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Kerr asked a question, Murphy answered. Then someone claims that Murphy was making a big deal out of it. Obviously because Kerr was. . . Right.
6.11.2007 12:55pm
Waldensian (mail):

God forbid we profile. Better to risk another airplane hijacking/suicide attack. The dogma of political correctness demands it.

Is there any actual evidence suggesting that young Arab males are not being subjected to sufficient scrutiny at airports because of political correctness?

I hear claims like this all the time, but they are contrary to the (admittedly little) evidence I've heard -- mostly conversations with "Arab-looking" guys who claim that they get the intensive search pretty routinely.

I am, however, willing to sit corrected.

Finally, it seems to me that any decent terrorist profile ought to include young white Catholic ex-military Republican meth-head males.
6.11.2007 12:56pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Eli, I don't see anybody faulting the professor for bringing it up this time around. We're faulting him for believing that he has been personally targeted by the Bush Administration for security hassles that he is able nonetheless to get around by flashing an old Marine ID card.

I remember I once was working for a conservative think-tank and got a call from an old man ranting about how "Gorbachev, the Jews, and the Bankers" were plotting to take over the world. Went on and on about it. Then started telling me about how Lee Harvey Oswald once tried to shoot him, and he could prove it by sending me the reports. I was sure he was a loon. Then I learned some new history. Turns out I was talking with Major General Edwin A. Walker (U.S. Army, ret.), so he was telling me the truth about the Oswald thing. But that didn't make him right on the bit about Gorbachev, the Jews, and the Bankers. He was a distinguished public servant who, sadly, got paranoid in his old age.
6.11.2007 1:19pm
Toby:
Clearly bin Laden does not understand the west. Otherwise he would know that a round trip is almost always cheaper than one way on the "traditional" airlines...
6.11.2007 2:16pm
dll111:
I was denied a boarding pass a couple years ago because my name was on the No Fly, Terrorist Watch List. I almost missed my flight down to see my girlfriend in Atlanta while I was shuffled from the agents at the desk to the security agent in a back room office at the Cincinnati airport. It turns out that someone on the No Fly List has my first and last name. I simply get my tickets using my first, middle, and last names and I have never been bothered since.
6.11.2007 3:02pm
rarango (mail):
PatHMV--Pat--fascinating anecdote about MG Walker--IIRC he was very much a John Bircher, ran afoul of the Department of the Army and was retired early. I think its fair to say he was rather paranoid as a younger man, but I do appreciate your characterization of him as a dedicated public servant--which he, in fact, was. A really good commander.
6.11.2007 3:52pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I tell you, rarango, it really took me by surprise. I had never heard of him before then (having been born 4 years after all that, and not being a particularly conspiracy-minded JFK assassination buff). When he started going on about Oswald shooting him, I thought that was where he really started going off the deep end, though it turns out that was his sanest moment of the conversation. I called up my dad, a history Ph.D., that night and told him about the call, without mentioning the guy's name, and he said: "Really? You talked with Gen. Edwin Walker?" and then explained the story to me. Gen. Walker did indeed send me copies of the Secret Service report too, as promised.
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