Surely you’ve heard the stories of the well-intentioned, God-loving folks arriving at the airport to embark on their daiquiri-filled vacation to Club Med only to be stopped at the gate by a couple of brutish-looking federal agents wearing dark suits and speaking in a no-nonsense, terse, come-with-me-or-else tone. More often than not these wholesome travellers have been embargoed because they share a name — or part of a name — with a malevolent individual on the no-fly list, estimated by the AP in 2010 to contain 6,000 names. While 6,000 isn’t the steepest figure around, the 418,000 people on the consolidated terrorist watch list — which is compiled from information provided by various law enforcement agencies — will certainly startle you.
Tightening restrictions and casting a net over potential evildoers, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report last week announcing, among other conclusions, that the number of American citizens on the no-fly list has doubled since 2009. If you’re not from here, fear not; the FBI maintains a larger terrorism watch list containing some 550,000 individuals, 98 per cent of which are foreign nationals.
But let’s not rush to conclusions here. As demonstrated above, just because you’re a member of the ignominious terrorist watch list doesn’t mean you also get a free ticket to the no-fly list. Plus, there’s a select 18,000 people who must receive extra screening (pat-downs, scans, maybe a free magazine from The Hudson News) before boarding their flight. So now you know who to blame for those extra delays…
The TSA, though, isn’t casting aspersions on the matter! They even have a myth busters page on their website to debunk false claims about how many people are on the lists and who publishes and produces them. As the TSA makes explicitly clear in their myth busting clue book, they are DEFINITELY NOT the fathers of these lists. They just use the information.
Lapses still do happen, which is part of the reason why flight restriction lists keep expanding. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in 2009 by detonating a bomb in his underwear, was placed on a larger watch list but not on the no-fly list, even after his father told CIA officials about his son’s radical beliefs.
Likewise, would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was allowed to board a plane to Yemen after failing to detonate his explosive the previous day. In Shahzad’s case, airline agents failed to consult the no-fly list when allowing Shahzad to purchase a ticket and then check-in for his flight. Only during a pre-flight boarding procedure was his restricted status revealed.
All of this is to say that if you don’t want to travel by Greyhound for the foreseeable future, you’d be best to keep your name off of the no-fly list.
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