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"No Fly List": No Quality Control?

Last Sunday, CBS's 60 Minutes, in conjunction with the non-profit National Security News Service, reported on a March 2006 copy it obtained of the mysterious "No Fly List," which is supposed to finger individuals who are threats to civil aviation (pdf) as they check in at airports.  60 Minutes "found it to be incomplete, inaccurate, outdated and a source of aggravation for thousand of innocent Americans."

While the names of dead hijackers who crashed planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade on 9/11 are still on the March 2006 list, the names of the alleged British liquid-explosive plotters are not on it, though they had been under surveillance for about a year before their arrests in August.  Last year, we ourselves wrote:

Although the list has snared such "threats" to the Republic as musician Cat Stevens and Senator Ted Kennedy, Osama Bin Laden was not on the list as recently as January 2004!

The ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other groups have tried to peel away at the secrecy protecting the "No Fly List" and the policies on it from scruntiny. 

Increasingly, it looks like the lack of quality control of the data put into the "No Fly List" reflects the possibly overzealous and partially incompetent response to 9/11.  Maybe in the initial wake of the attacks you'd expect there to be problems of this magnitude.  But half a decade after the biggest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor, you'd expect what-are-more-than-just-kinks in one of the purported cornerstones of our aviation security system to be worked out.

Not tangential to all of this, are the scattershot policies of the various homeland security-related entities and how they share or don't share information, particularly intelligence.  For example, at the Federal Air Marshal Service, at least one field office had--for a time--a quota policy for air marshals filing so-called Surveillance Detection Reports of suspicious activity.  Thus, it is possible that innocent people have been placed on watch lists to meet a bureaucratically-imposed requirement.

By: Nick Schwellenbach
Director of Investigations, POGO

Nick Schwellenbach At the time of publication, Nick Schwellenbach was Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Nick Schwellenbach

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