Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The Associated Press reports the US “no-fly list” has doubled from 10,000 people a year ago to about 21,000 people.

The AP details:

The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner when the US government lowered the standard for putting people on the list and scoured its files for anyone who qualified. “We learned a lot about the watchlisting process and made strong improvements, which continue to this day,” said Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, which produces the no-fly list.

A “new standard” allows the Terrorist Screening Center to list a person that isn’t necessarily a threat to aviation.

People considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp are also included, said a US counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. As agencies complete the reviews of their files, the pace of growth is expected to slow.

The list, which is classified, likely includes many people from countries that were placed on a watch list after the 2009 bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound flight. Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Iran (four countries on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism) and Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen were all placed on a list of “countries of interest” following the attempted attack. The new regime meant all passengers traveling from any of the fourteen countries would, regardless of nationality or US citizenship, be subject to increased security and possible violations of privacy. Presumably, many of the people added to the list come from these countries.

US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks showed how leaders from countries on the list became angry. For some leaders, US relations were momentarily in jeopardy. For example, Nigeria said the US had gone ahead and designated countries as terrorist countries, which was unacceptable. The Algerian foreign minister found the designation to be “at odds with President Obama’s Cairo speech calling for more solidarity with the West and the Muslim World.”

Libya’s designation led the country to respond in kind and begin to treat the US as a magnet for terrorism. A Libyan brigadier general of the Libyan Immigration and Passports Department suggested American tourists were at a “higher risk of getting attacked by al Qaeda when they go out in the desert than Italian or French tourists.” They would be reluctant to issue “tourist visas” for Americans.

The cables offered another window into the US government’s watchlisting of foreigners. One cable featured a list of people recommended by the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia, for the “no fly” list. they have either an historical or current association with Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, The individuals were people based in Yemen or the surrounding region, who might have come into contact with al-Awlaki.

Al-Awlaki, who was born in the US, was never charged with terrorism. He enjoyed that designation right up to the point when the US government ordered him killed and assassinated him in a drone strike. And as the cable indicates individuals, who might have been guilty of associating with him, were to be put on a “no fly” list and not just the US “no fly list” but also the Australian “no fly” list.

As the ACLU notes in its lawsuit, “on behalf of fifteen American citizens and lawful permanent residents who cannot fly to or from the US or over its airspace because they are on the list,” none of their plaintiffs, which include ” two veterans of the US Marine Corps (one of whom is disabled), a US Army veteran, and a US Air Force veteran, have been told why they are on the list or given a meaningful chance to clear their names.”

The ACLU adds, “Those who were stranded abroad due to placement on the No Fly List while traveling overseas were permitted to fly home to the US on what appear to be one-time only waivers due to the ACLU’s intervention through its lawsuit.”

Here’s a list of some of the people:

  • Ayman Latif, US citizen and disabled Marine veteran. He is barred from flying to the US and, as a result, cannot take a required Veterans’ Administration disability evaluation. He also cannot bring his two children to visit family in the US.
  • Samir Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, a US citizen. He is not allowed to fly home to the US because he visited family in Yemen.
  • Ibraheim (Abe) Mashal, a US citizen and US Marine Corps veteran. He is a dog trainer, who is not allowed to board a plane to do business with clients outside of Illinois, his home. He has three children.

“To deprive people fundamental rights without any notice or opportunity to object is unfair, unconstitutional, and un-American,” the ACLU declares.

Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Healy of the Screening Center all perpetuate this regime, where people’s rights are restricted. They perpetuate this system that makes it near impossible for people to challenge their placement on the “no fly” list.

The Terrorist Screening Center takes an entirely wrong approach to putting together a list of people who pose threats. They should want to weed out people and have the smallest list possible so that Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the State Department could focus on the real threats. But the US government seems to do the opposite. They load into their list any name they possibly can on any thin suspicion they might have that a person could have possibly had or currently has some connection to people or groups that are “threats” to America.

Worse, far too many accept the designating of thousands upon thousands of people in the world and, when abuses do get reported, they do not find there are systemic flaws. The response instead is that the system usually works. The people on the list, on the whole, pose dangers to the US. But, are there really twenty-one thousand terrorists out there who pose imminent danger to the US? Is that not preposterous or absurd?

And, as a result, a government that has numerous instruments or tools at their fingertips for labeling one a “terrorist” is able to grossly violate a person, whether they are a US citizen or not. “Caution” is able to be used to justify the inclusion of people’s names—many whom, if they could challenge their designation in court, would surely be taken off the list. But, that does not matter because the Terrorist Screening Center has “customers” like the Transporation Security Administration (TSA), which use the list. They do business by having contracts with agencies in government that use the list and these “customers” need an enormous list so they can have many possible leads for any investigations.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."