As you my have heard, there’s a trial going on here in San Francisco about the legality of the complete lack of any sort of due process concerning the US’s “no fly” list. The NY Times has a good background article on the case, which notes that somewhere around 700,000 people appear to be on the list, where there’s basically no oversight of the list and no recourse if you happen to be placed on the list. This lawsuit, by Rahinah Ibrahim (who had been a Stanford PhD student) is challenging that.
In that case, a Stanford University Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim was prevented from boarding a flight at San Francisco International Airport in 2005, and was handcuffed and detained by the police. Ultimately, she was allowed to fly to Malaysia, her home country, but she has been unable to return to the United States because the State Department revoked her student visa.
According to court filings, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Ms. Ibrahim a week before her trip and asked about her religious activities (she is Muslim), her husband and what she might know of a Southeast Asian terrorist organization. A summary of that interview obtained by Ms. Ibrahim’s lawyer includes a code indicating that the visit was related to an international terrorism investigation, but it is not clear what other evidence — like email or phone records — was part of that inquiry.
Ibrahim is suing not only to contest her placement on the list but to find out why she was on the list at all. One of the witness in this case was Ibrahim’s daughter, who is a US citizen. She was supposed to fly in this week to testify at the trial. But she now claims she was blocked from boarding the plane because she was … put on the no-fly list. The government is saying that she just missed her flight, but documents have now shown up confirming that she was indeed placed on the no fly list. Gideon:
Just so you understand what’s happening: the Federal government is being sued. The Federal government, in defending that lawsuit, has apparently just blocked the opposite party from providing a witness. It’s as if the state charged you with murder, but you have a rock solid alibi of your family, so on the day your family was going to testify, they took your family and moved them to Guantanamo and then pretended like nothing happened and they didn’t know anything.
The TSA is also trying to retroactively classify public documents as Sensitive Security Information, including the information about why precisely Dr. Ibrahim was on the no-fly list. The federal judge has been coming down hard on them.
So why is the government so twitchy about this case as to try to bar a US citizen from entering the country and conceal public documents? Mainly because they don’t want anyone to realize just how much bullshit security theater these no-fly lists are. The latest report is that they may have barred Ibrahim because they mistook a Malaysian networking organization for a terrorist organization with a similar name. Imagine being on a no-fly list because the government thinks LinkedIn sounds like the Lincoln Liberation Front.
Those of you who are familiar with how our government does things will see a familiar pattern. We’ve seen it play out a thousand times with this administration.
(1) do something for arbitrary and stupid for arbitrary or stupid reasons;
(2) insist that your reasons were sound, even if we can’t quite tell you what they were;
(3) insist that you didn’t actually do it;
(4) try to silence people and bury documents who can attest to your arbitrariness and stupidity.
It’s always hard to distinguish a cover-up from standard-issue incompetence. But it will be interesting to see where this goes. TSA’s no-fly list is a massive unaccountable database that people have been complaining about for ten years. It appears that not only does TSA want to keep that idiocy going; they want to make sure no one know how badly run it is.