The No-Fly Secrets Revealed

For a case that could have, should have, disappeared with a swift oops and click of the delete button, it has reached a conclusion with the unfortunately unsatisfying result of no one being saved and a government so utterly impotent, incompetent, and unworthy as to warrant a brief chuckle.  If only it wasn’t our government.

The pathetic tale of how Stanford Ph.D. student Rahinah Ibrahim wound up on the no-fly list, not for any distant, evil conspiracy, or hyper-technical connection to anyone whose underpants might potentially burst into flames, but because someone getting a government paycheck ticked the wrong box, was bad enough. So someone screwed up. You’re a big country, United States. Own up to the error, fix it, apologize and move on.  But no, that wasn’t the way it would happen. And no, we may be large in size, but puny in spirit.

The trial was a fiasco, with the government screwing the opposition in deceitful, absurd ways.  Judge William Haskell Alsup, of the Northern District of California, was making all the right noises to suggest that he was about to explode, to teach the disingenuous lying scumbags who claim to represent us a damn good lesson.  But when the last huff and puff was over, it turned out to be no more than noise, the empty threats that never seem to happen when the targets of vitriol suck the government’s teet.

Despite being denied witnesses, evidence, truth and anything remotely reflecting integrity, the monumental stupidity of the government’s fight left no option but to find for Ibrahim, who had no more business being on the no-fly list than that undocumented Keynsian, Barack Hussein Obama.  What actually, why Ibrahim was put through this nightmare, however, would have to wait for another day, as the government constrained the court to issue only a redacted opinion, because state secrets.  They great mysteries that protect our nation from the terrorists would be revealed, and the safety of the people must come first.

The full decision has now been revealed.

So just what did the Justice Department believe was so important to hide from Judge Alsup’s otherwise public order for the quarter-year the Court granted the DOJ to argue its appeal (an opportunity the DOJ declined)?  Here are a few of the family jewels that were previously blacked out entirely from the Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law:

  • Dr. Ibrahim does not pose (nor ever did pose) “a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism.”  (p. 8)

  • Even after removing Dr. Ibrahim’s name from the No Fly List, her name “remained in the TSDB and on the selectee and CLASS lists.” (p. 16) (The TSDB is the “Terrorist Screening Database,” a central repository akin to a card catalog of intelligence held throughout the Federal Government.  Nomination to the TSDB is typically based on a “reasonable suspicion” standard.  The TSDB is then used to generate “customer watchlists” for different government agencies, such as the No Fly List, the selectee list — which imposes heightened screening at airports — and the Consular Lookout And Support System (CLASS), a State Department watchlist.)

  • About a year after Dr. Ibrahim was handcuffed and jailed at San Francisco Airport, an unidentified government agent requested that she be “Remove[d] from ALL Watchlist Supported Systems (For terrorist subjects: due to closure of case AND no nexus to terrorism)” (p. 18) but that between 2006 and 2009 her name was “removed from the TSDB” then “placed back in the TSDB” then “removed from the TSDB” then “nominated to the TSDB pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard” where her name remains today for reasons deemed state secrets.  And that the trial record does not show whether or the extent to which Dr. Ibrahim’s name was ever “removed from all of the customer watchlists subscribing to the TSDB.” (p. 18-19)

But it was what the Court termed this “Kafkaesque on-off-on-list treatment” (a phrase that the Justice Department demanded be partially blacked out) that led the Court to order the Government to “expressly tell Dr. Ibrahim that she is no longer on the no-fly list and has not been on it since 2005″ (also blacked out).

Mike Masnick has done fun comparison between the redacted and unredacted versions using pictures and interpretive dance:

Still, other redactions seem equally bizarre. Take this one:

The unredacted version says:

 Government counsel has conceded at trial that Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to our national security. She does not pose (and has not posed) a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism. This the government admits and this order finds.

The full, unredacted decision is available here. Read it if you want. It’s reveals a government that is barely capable of performing basic functions competently, and incapable of undoing them after they’ve screwed up.

From the initial error of a wrongly ticked box, to the vehemence of the government’s fight to conceal its error, to the invocation of secrecy and dirty tricks played, to the impotence of the court to end it or fix it, to the concealment of the embarrassing opinion under the phony guise of state secrets, to the ultimate revelation that there isn’t a grownup anywhere to be found in our government, this case has revealed but one thing: we are a puny nation run by fragile, deceitful children.

The only question remaining is why Rahinah Ibrahim, who still can’t fly here because there doesn’t appear to be any way to remove her from the TSDB, because some self-proclaimed grocery clerk patriot with a checklist has no box to tick to do so, would want to come back here anyway.

3 thoughts on “The No-Fly Secrets Revealed

  1. Wheeze The People™

    . . . Oh, so now you’re the one guy left rooting for the terrorists to win?? What will the children think of that?? . . .

    1. SHG Post author

      The terrorists watched this case closely. Not to get a sneak peak at the secret inner workings of the no-fly list, but to verify the accuracy of the Onion’s news reporting.

  2. George B

    Come on, the Onion could never have made this up….
    Who would believe them??
    This case is Simpsons material.

    BTW, you made a typo above. Bu I fixed it:
    …….sneak peak at the secret inner NON-workings of the no-fly list….

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