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A Federal Agency Admits It is Maintaining an Air Travel Blacklist

The Transportation Safety Administration finally admits it has one (or more) "no-fly" lists. Many stories of harrassment are being collected.
A federal agency confirms that it maintains an air-travel blacklist - activists and nuns
by repost Saturday November 16, 2002 at 10:03 AM


Meanwhile, airport security personnel, citing lists that are provided by the agency and that appear to be on airline ticketing and check-in computers, seem to be netting mostly priests, elderly nuns, Green Party campaign operatives, left-wing journalists, right-wing activists and people affiliated with Arab or Arab-American groups.

Grounded
A federal agency confirms that it maintains an air-travel blacklist of 1,000 people. Peace activists and civil libertarians fear they're on it.

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By Dave Lindorff
< http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/11/15/no_fly/index.html

Nov. 15, 2002 | Barbara Olshansky was in Newark
International Airport at the JetBlue departure gate
last March when an airline agent at the counter
checking her boarding pass called airport security.
Olshansky was subjected to a close search and then,
though she was in view of other travelers, was ordered
to pull her pants down. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
may have created a new era in airport security, but
even so, she was embarrassed and annoyed.

Perhaps one such incident might've been forgotten, but
Olshansky, the assistant legal director for the left-
leaning Center for Constitutional Rights, was pulled
out of line for special attention the next time she
flew. And the next time. And the next time. On one
flight this past September from Newark to Washington,
six members of the center's staff, including Olshansky,
were stopped and subjected to intense scrutiny, even
though they had purchased their tickets independently
and had not checked in as a group. On that occasion,
Olshansky got angry and demanded to know why she had
been singled out.

"The computer spit you out," she recalls the agent
saying. "I don't know why, and I don't have time to
talk to you about it."

Olshansky and her colleagues are, apparently, not
alone. For months, rumors and anecdotes have circulated
among left-wing and other activist groups about people
who have been barred from flying or delayed at security
gates because they are "on a list."

But now, a spokesman for the new Transportation
Security Administration has acknowledged for the first
time that the government has a list of about 1,000
people who are deemed "threats to aviation" and not
allowed on airplanes under any circumstances. And in an
interview with Salon, the official suggested that
Olshansky and other po
litical activists may be on a
separate list that subjects them to strict scrutiny but
allows them to fly.

"We have a list of about 1,000 people," said David
Steigman, the TSA spokesman. The agency was created a
year ago by Congress to handle transportation safety
during the war on terror. "This list is composed of
names that are provided to us by various government
organizations like the FBI, CIA and INS … We don't ask
how they decide who to list. Each agency decides on its
own who is a 'threat to aviation.'"

The agency has no guidelines to determine who gets on
the list, Steigman says, and no procedures for getting
off the list if someone is wrongfully on it.

Meanwhile, airport security personnel, citing lists
that are provided by the agency and that appear to be
on airline ticketing and check-in computers, seem to be
netting mostly priests, elderly nuns, Green Party
campaign operatives, left-wing journalists, right-wing
activists and people affiliated with Arab or Arab-
American groups.

# Virgine Lawinger, a nun in Milwaukee and an activist
with Peace Action, a Catholic advocacy group, was
stopped from boarding a flight last spring to
Washington, where she and 20 young students were
planning to lobby the Wisconsin congressional
delegation against U.S. military aid to the Colombian
government. "We were all prevented from boarding, and
some of us were taken to another room and questioned by
airport security personnel and local sheriff's
deputies," says Lawinger.

In that incident, an airline employee with Midwest Air
and a local sheriff's deputy who had been called in
during the incident to help airport security personnel
detain and question the group, told some of them that
their names were "on a list," and that they were being
kept off their plane on instructions from the
Transportation Security Administration in Washington.
Lawinger has filed a freedom-of-information request
with the Transportation Security Administration seeking
to learn if she is on a "threat to aviation" list.

# Last month, Rebecca G
ordon and Jan Adams, two
journalists with a San Francisco-based antiwar magazine
called War Times were stopped at the check-in counter
of ATA Airlines, where an airline clerk told them that
her computer showed they were on "the FBI No Fly list."
The airline called the FBI, and local police held them
for a while before telling them there had been a
mistake and that they were free to go. The two made
their plane, but not before the counter attendant
placed a large S for "search" on their baggage,
assuring that they got more close scrutiny at the
boarding gate.

# Art dealer Doug Stuber, who ran Ralph Nader's Green
Party presidential campaign in North Carolina in 2000,
was barred last month from getting on a flight to
Hamburg, Germany, where he was going on business, after
he got engaged in a loud, though friendly, discussion
with two other passengers in a security line. During
the course of the debate, he shouted that "George Bush
is as dumb as a rock," an unfortunate comment that
provoked the Raleigh-Durham Airport security staff to
call the local Secret Service bureau, which sent out
two agents to interrogate Stuber.

"They took me into a room and questioned me all about
my politics," Stuber recalls. "They were very up on
Green Party politics, too." They fingerprinted him and
took a digital eye scan. Particularly ominous, he says,
was a loose-leaf binder held by the Secret Service
agents. "It was open, and while they were questioning
me, I discreetly looked at it," he says. "It had a long
list of organizations, and I was able to recognize the
Green Party, Greenpeace, EarthFirst and Amnesty
International." Stuber was eventually released, but
because he missed his flight, he had to pay almost
$2,000 for a full-fare ticket to Hamburg so that he did
not miss his business engagement.

A Secret Service agent at the agency's Washington
headquarters confirmed that his agency had been called
in to question Stuber. "We're not normally a part of
the airport security operation," Agent Mark Connelly
told Salon. "That's the FB
I's job. But when one of our
protection subjects gets threatened, we check it out."
Asked about the list of organizations observed by
Stuber, the Secret Service source speculated that those
organizations might be on a list of organizations that
the service, which is assigned the task of protecting
the president, might need to monitor as part of its
security responsibility.

Additional evidence suggests that Olshansky, Stuber and
other left-leaning activists are also seen as a threat
to aviation, though perhaps of a different grade. A top
official for the Eagle Forum, an old-line conservative
group led by anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly, said
several of the group's members have been delayed at
security checkpoints for so long that they missed their
flights. According to Pax Christi, a Catholic peace
organization, an American member of the Falun Gong
Chinese religious group was barred from getting back on
a plane that had stopped in Iceland, reportedly based
on information supplied to Icelandic customs by U.S.
authorities. The person was reportedly permitted to fly
onward on a later flight.

Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American
Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says his group has
documented over 80 cases -- involving 200 people -- in
which fliers with Arabic names have been delayed at the
airport, or barred altogether from flying. Some, he
says, appear to involve people who have no political
involvement at all, and he speculated that they
suffered the misfortune of having the same name as
someone "on the list" for legitimate security reasons.

Until Steigman's confirmation of the no-fly list, the
government had never admitted its existence. While FBI
spokesman Paul Bresson confirmed existence of the list,
officials at the CIA and U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service declined to comment and referred
inquiries back to the TSA. Details of how it was
assembled and how it is being used by the government,
airports and airlines are largely kept secret.

A security officer at United Airlines,
speaking on
condition of anonymity, confirmed that the airlines
receive no-fly lists from the Transportation Security
Administration but declined further comment, saying it
was a security matter. A USAir spokeswoman, however,
declined to comment, saying that the airline's security
relationship with the federal transit agency was a
security matter and that discussing it could
"jeopardize passenger safety."

Steigman declined to say who was on the no-fly list,
but he conceded that people like Lawinger, Stuber,
Gordon, Adams and Olshansky were not "threats to
aviation," because they were being allowed to fly after
being interrogated and searched. But then, in a
Byzantine twist, he raised the possibility that the
security agency might have more than one list. "I
checked with our security people," he said, "and they
said there is no [second] list," he said. "Of course,
that could mean one of two things: Either there is no
second list, or there is a list and they're not going
to talk about it for security reasons."

In fact, most of those who have been stopped from
boarding flights (like Lawinger, Stuber, Gordon and
Adams) were able to fly later. Obviously, if the TSA
thought someone was a genuine "threat to aviation" --
like those on the 1,000-name no-fly list, they would
simply be barred from flying. So does the agency have
more than one list perhaps -- one for people who are
totally barred from flying and another for people who
are simply harassed and delayed?

Asked why the TSA would be barring a 74-year-old nun
from flying, Steigman said: "I don't know. You could
get on the list if you were arrested for a federal
felony."

Sister Lawinger says she was arrested only once, back
in the 1980s, for sitting down and refusing to leave
the district office of a local congressman. And even
then, she says, she was never officially charged or
fined. But another person who was in the Peace Action
delegation that day, Judith Williams, says she was
arrested and spent three days in jail for a protest at
the White House back in 1
991. In that protest, Williams
and other Catholic peace activists had scaled the White
House perimeter fence and scattered baby dolls around
the lawn to protest the bombing of Iraq. She says that
the charge from that incident was a misdemeanor, an
infraction that would not seem enough to establish her
as a threat to aviation.

Inevitably, such questions about how one gets on a
federal transit list creates questions about how to get
off it. It is a classic -- and unnerving -- catch-22:
Because the Transportation Security Administration says
it compiles the list from names provided by other
agencies, it has no procedure for correcting a problem.
Aggrieved parties would have to go to the agency that
first reported their names, but for security reasons,
the TSA won't disclose which agency put someone on the
list.

Bresson, the FBI spokesperson, would not explain the
criteria for classifying someone as a threat to
aviation, but suggests that fliers who believe they're
on the list improperly should "report to airport
security and they should be able to contact the TSA or
us and get it cleared up." He concedes that might mean
missed flights or other inconveniences. His
explanation: "Airline security has gotten very
complicated."

Many critics of the security agency's methods accept
the need for heightened air security, but remain
troubled the more Kafka-esque traits of the system.
Waters, at the Eagle Forum, worries that the government
has offered no explanation for how a "threat to
aviation" is determined. "Maybe the people being
stopped are already being profiled," she says. "If
they're profiling people, what kind of things are they
looking for? Whether you fit in in your neighborhood?"

"I agree that the government should be keeping known
'threats to aviation' off of planes," Ibish says. "I
certainly don't want those people on my plane! But
there has to be a procedure for appealing this, and
there isn't. There are no safeguards and there is no
recourse."

Meanwhile, nobody in the federal government has
explained why
so many law-abiding but mostly left-
leaning political activists and antiwar activists are
being harassed at check-in time at airports. "This all
raises serious concerns about whether the government
has made a decision to target Americans based on their
political beliefs," says Katie Corrigan, an ACLU
official. The ACLU has set up a No Fly List Complaint
Form on its Web site.

One particular concern about the government's threat to
aviation list and any other possible lists of people to
be subjected to extra security investigation at
airports is that names are being made available to
private companies -- the airlines and airport
authorities -- charged with alerting security
personnel. Unlike most other law-enforcement watch
lists, these lists are not being closely held within
the national security or law-enforcement files and
computers, but are apparently being widely dispersed.

"It's bad enough when the federal government has lists
like this with no guidelines on how they're compiled or
how to use them," says Olshansky at the Center for
Constitutional Rights. "But when these lists are then
given to the private sector, there are even less
controls over how they are used or misused." Noting
that airlines have "a free hand" to decide whether
someone can board a plane or not, she says the result
is a "tremendous chilling of the First Amendment right
to travel and speak freely."

But Olshansky, alarmed by her own experience and the
number of others reporting apparent political
harassment, is fighting back. She says now that the
government has confirmed the existence of a blacklist,
her center is planning a First Amendment lawsuit
against the federal government. CCR and has already
signed up Lawinger, Stuber, and several others from
Milwaukee's Peace Action group.

salon.com
I'm one of the blacklistees 17.Nov.2002 10:14

glad to have the opportunity to say my piece

I am simply a will-not-hurt-a-fly friend of an environmentalist and have cooperated with the police. Now, I am still on this suspect flylist (the second unofficial let's just search them every twenty feet one).

What can I do about it? I'm still allowed to fly, but am insulted and a little annoyed. But really, what choice do I have?

I looked on ACLU's site for the mentioned registry page. Anybody know the URL?

Thanks. And any perspective would be appreciated.

I'm one of the blacklistees 17.Nov.2002 10:15

glad to have the opportunity to say my piece

I am simply a will-not-hurt-a-fly friend of an environmentalist and have cooperated with the police. Now, I am still on this suspect flylist (the second unofficial let's just search them every twenty feet one).

What can I do about it? I'm still allowed to fly, but am insulted and a little annoyed, and a little scared too. But really, what choice do I have?

I looked on ACLU's site for the mentioned registry page. Anybody know the URL?

Thanks. And any perspective would be appreciated.

Answer to myself 17.Nov.2002 17:33

OK Here Is What I came up with....

What if I wear a really loud obvious t-shirt with "ENVIRONMENTALIST" written on it? That way, the people who see me getting searched every twenty feet will know what is up.

Also, people who are in GreenPeace would have ones saying GREENPEACE, the ones for Kudistans for Peace or whatever would have that.

My thinking is that anecdotally word would get around that we are being targetted.

Better than having eventually to wear gold stars or whatever, I say.

advice to blacklisted flyers 18.Nov.2002 00:07

anon

Stop flying the US airlines. Don't the f*ckers have enough of your money already, after the $15G dollar carepackage Congress just gave them, and the additional carepackages they're also whining for?

Let these f*ckers rot in hell.

Umm. huh yeah 18.Nov.2002 06:47

Always Searched

Hiya Kids,

I get searched all the time when flying, and I'm not an important member of a left wing group.

I got searched quite a bit pre 9/11, and on every flight afterwards. I probably just fit a certain search profile.