Tag: State secrets privilege

Covering Up Incompetence

A while back, I blogged about the Rahinah Ibrahim case. In short, a Stanford University Ph.D. student found herself barred from flying into the United States because she was on a no-fly list. She challenged this and tried to find out why she was on the list. The Feds refused to divulge this information and even added her daughter to the no-fly list to prevent her from testifying in the federal case. They said revealing why she was on the list would compromise national security.

Well, we found out why Dr. Ibrahim was detained: the Feds fucked up:

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

This cover-up has been going on for seven years through two Administrations. And what, precisely were they covering up? A paperwork error. There was absolutely zero danger to national security in just admitting that they messed up, that they placed a scholar on the no-fly list by accident. But the reflex to lie, to cover-up, to deceive is so strong in our government that they engaged in a a ridiculous expensive seven year legal struggle to prevent this information from coming out.

This is the danger of creating things like the “states secrets privilege”. If you give any human beings that kind of an umbrella, they will put anything they want under it, including pointlessly detaining a PhD student because they checked the wrong box on a damned form.

But … you know … maybe they have a point. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for us to find out how arbitrary, stupid and error-filled this no-fly list is. Because if we find that out, we might question the entire massively expense security theater our government has built. And we can’t have that, can we?