By Frank Whalen
In the last year the U.S. “no-fly” list has more than doubled, despite the much-ballyhooed successes in the “War against Terror.” According to U.S. officials, the reason for this change is the modified criteria, making it easier to be added to the watch list. This could spell trouble for American citizens currently under governmental suspicion.
The number of suspected terrorists on the list made a stratospheric leap from 10,000 to 21,000 persons, including an admitted 500 American citizens. According to an anonymously-sourced U.S. counterterrorism official speaking to the Associated Press, now those “who are considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp also are included,” rather than just those who the government claims are a threat to aviation.
Martin Reardon, the former head of the Terrorist Screening Operations Center, said that by using these watch lists, “We have a much greater chance of keeping them from entering the country.” This implies that the 500 Americans on the no-fly list are actually abroad and not in the United States. However, when scrutinized, this claim is patently untrue.
If the no-fly list existed solely to keep suspected terrorists from entering the country then the list would not be accessed when citizens are traveling domestically by air. But that evidently is not the case, as targeted individuals such as Sen. Ted Kennedy and even children were placed on the list as early as 2004.
The list itself is secret. Nusrat Choudhury, a lawyer with the ACLU, says that those who feel “they’re unfairly on the no-fly list can submit a letter to the Homeland Security Department, but the only way they’ll know if they’re still on the list is to try to fly again.”
In 2002, the conservative website “Free Republic” reported on a group of peace activists who were heading to Washington, D.C. to protest the ongoing wars. After checking in at the ticket counter, “Twenty of the 37 members of the Peace Action Milwaukee group—including a priest and a nun—were pulled aside and questioned by Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputies,” thereby missing their flight.
Milwaukee nun Virgine Lawinger said: “What caused the computer to flag those names? I did feel it was profiling a particular group without a basis—a peace group. The abuse of power was so obvious.”
With the Occupy Wall Street movement and other groups raising their voices in dissent this election year, it is possible that the no-fly list will become a tool of harassment for any persons the government feels are too vocal.
It may have already begun. Mayor Jean Quan referred to the recent violence during an Occupy Oakland protest in California as being caused by a “very radical, violent” group among the crowds. According to some in the occupy movement, however, actions like these are the result of agents provocateurs.
As the political and social tensions ramp up, it may not be long before any protester or patriot is given the designation of “terrorist” and added to these expanding central government watch lists.
Frank Whalen has been a radio talk show host for the past 17 years, and worked as a consultant for Maxim magazine. For more news and views from Frank, see www.frankwhalenlive.com.