Another five-year-old on the no-fly list: meet Sam Adams

Ted Adams -- the publisher of IDW comics -- named his little son "Sam Adams," a good, solid patriotic name. It's also a name on the TSA's no-fly list, and the five-year-old has spent his young life being harassed by airport security goons who think he's a terrorist.
Saw the article you posted on Boing Boing about the five year old on the no-fly list. My son, also five, is on that same list and it's a nightmare. Every time we fly with him, we can't use the computer terminals to check in and the attendant has to call some never named government agency to make sure he's not a terrorist. Some attendants joke it off but some are insanely serious about it. His seat always goes unassigned (even if it was assigned when the reservation is made) which always causes problems.

I've tried everything that anyone has suggested. There's a TSA form that you can fill out for this situation, which I did, but they won't tell you if they've removed your name. We got him a passport -- that didn't work. We've tried booking the tickets with his full name (including middle name), that didn't work. We tried booking the ticket under Master Samuel Adams, with still no luck.

Yeah, and if you think that's funny, imagine this kid's life when he's an adult and Every goddamned flight he takes involves an extra hour of hassle, a search, no assigned seats, being turned away, being humiliated, being harassed... There's a special circle of hell that's being prepared for the domestic fear-mongers who've helped the terrorists make Americans so very afraid. Link (Thanks, Ted!)


  1. Maybe we have to start naming our children the same way that we create passwords – letters and numbers, upper and lower case, no two alike. The Bush administration would like us to just forget our names and barcode us instead, wouldn’t they?

  2. I too have the pleasure of making the list…over the past several years I’ve twice submitted the paperwork (notarized copies of passport, DL and certified copy of Birth Cert) the gov’t sends letter back saying thanks and then….nothing changes. still can’t print boarding pass out ahead of time and have to wait in the long line to see an actual person to get my ticket. I don’t have a problem at United or AA. But always have a problem at Southworst and thanks to their dumb seating system get the luxury of a cramped middle seat and having to check my luggage.

    Person at Southworst yesterday told me UAL and AA clear the names through their frequent flier program but SW doesn’t do this because it would cost them money to have someone go through the list.

  3. This link showed up in the coments on the other child search post:

    I’d like to see a TSA official response to the question of who is lying? Their website or their agent who is telling people their children are on the list. I’m pretty sure it would be double speak nonsense and that nothing of value would come of it except perhaps an good BB post or bit for The (A) Daily Show. I’d suggest the parents carry a printout of that page from the TSA site but it would probably just get them even worse treatment.

    I can’t stop flying entirely but I have made it a last resort as the result of this sort of thing and many other indiginities

  4. Curious. Sam Adams is also the name of one of the city commissioners (and now running for mayor). I wonder if he’s run up against this as well—surely we would have heard about that. Or maybe he’s on the list because he’s a bicycle-loving commie.

  5. @lizardman

    Umm… The TSA says no EIGHT year-old is on the no-fly list. This kid is FIVE.

    I think someone owes the TSA an apology.

  6. You know, it would really have been helpful if I had mentioned the city Sam Adams is running for mayor of—Portland, OR.

  7. Meh, my cousin has this same problem. He has a good Irish name, Michael O’Brien. Too bad one of the guys on the terrorist watch list does too.

    My cousin is 8.

  8. The terrorists are successful: They’ve caused millions of hours of time to be wasted extraneously and THAT is their real goat. If we wanted to fight terrorism, we’d make it easier to board planes.

  9. So, here’s what it sounds like…


    HOWEVER, someone with their name IS. The kids can’t be taken off the no fly list, because they are not on it in the first place. If they were on it, they would not eventually be allowed on the flight. They can not take off the person who is on the list (and shares their name), because there is supposedly a good reason for that person to be on the No Fly List.

    So, lets review.

    ~On the no fly list. (left blank)

    ~Have the ability to stop being screwed over. (left blank)

    ~Screwed over anyway. (check)

    That being said, I doubt 99.9% of the people who are actually on the list deserve to be there in the first place.

  10. and this is just a 5 year old white kid.
    Imagine what it’d be like if you were an innocent 30 year old Arab-looking guy, who happened to have the same name as someone on the no-fly list… I’m sure there’s many of them.

  11. How come these no fly lists don’t have basic data, such as date of birth/height/ethnic origin etc next to the names. Surely that would knock out many of these situations……or is that too sensible?

  12. @15: Yeah, if he kicks back with a Heineken, Americans everywhere will weep.

    More seriously, this is garbage. I don’t know how they designed this process of no-fly listing, but it’s pretty clear that they did so under the influence of stupid.

  13. @ Coaxial (#7)

    You are correct, I apologize to the TSA for the interim of 3 years or until an 8 year old gets harassed in this fashion. Now I have to go catch a flight to Turkey because the trans Atlantic bridge is just a dream I had last night

  14. You guys are thinking about this ALL WRONG. The TSA is actually insanely clever. The massive amount of annoyance in this kids life is going to cause him to go John Rambo on everyone, find the actual terroristical Sam Adams and bring him to swift justice.

  15. What I don’t get is why there isn’t some sort of query against DOB. Even if the agent isn’t able to make a common sense decision, then couldn’t the system tell itself, duh, he’s 5, not 37.

  16. Why the heck did they name their kid after a beer? The No Fly list will be the least of his problems. ;-)

  17. I’ve always thought the brilliance of the no-fly list is the simple fact that it promotes actually threatening individuals to adopt new and unknown aliases… while tying up the resources that would otherwise be used to safeguard the country with mindless harassment of the general public.

    1. Excellent point jonathan_v. Of course real and capable ‘terrorists’ would simply find an alternative alias. Maybe the whole point of these pointless searches isn’t to actually catch any terrorists, but to change Americans such that they think this kind of interference in their personal freedoms by the federal authorities is normal and justified. Then, the NEXT step will be easier to do!

  18. Have any of the candidates in the US said so much as a word about when elected that they’d kick the TSA out the door and replace it with something that has a collective average IQ higher than say 85? Of course not because these elite candidates don’t actually travel with the rest of us. The constant insult of presuming that a name on a list takes precendence over an intelligent being’s right to explain himself and have it carry some weight is going to be the end of us. When will some candidate say ” if you show up at an airport and the only ID you have on you is an expired drivers license, but it still looks like you and is obviously you, it will be accepted.” Anyone? Of course not and until one of ’em does begin to make simple and intelligent statements like that it’s all a sham and ultimately it will cause the only security that will help our nation, the incentive for ordinary people to take part in the process, to withdraw and focus instead on their own solutions. Sadly.

  19. Um, anyone else worried that the name Sam Adams is on the list? What about Tom Jefferson or Tom Paine? That would be truly scary.

  20. Someone earlier linked to the TSA’s “Myth Busters” web page. Great name guys! So original… Besides the bit about the “myth” of children on the no-fly list, there’s some funny stuff about why liquids are so bad and a few other interesting bits. Definitly worth a read if you are in the mood to get mad.

  21. @#24

    Not so surprising, really, given what Sam Adams did to wind up on the no fly list.

    * Vocally, actively and publicly supported open rebellion against the government.

    * Had prominent role in destruction of private property as part of a anti-taxation protest.

    * Fringe believer of “Natural Rights”.

  22. I’ve a very common name that’s apparently on the list and used to get stopped all the time … until I added my middle initial when purchasing tickets.

    Dunno why. I can only guess it’s because the system is pathetically stupid.

  23. I too am on the happy go lucky list of the TSA. There’s no way to get off of it, well they say there is, but I know better, so these days I fuck with them as much as they do with me. You know, like leaving little notes for them in my bags, which are searched every time I go through security. Another fun one, is wearing my “shirt jacket” which really confuses the hell out of said TSA agents, and finally for today, I also like to wear flip flops and refuse to remove them b/c they are really shoes.

  24. many agree the system is stupid. Many TSA workers agree the system is stupid.

    So why can’t many get upon their hind legs and fix the stupid system?

    If it isn’t YOUR problem, who’s problem is it?

    Some suggestions: No Fly victims always show up at the airport with all their extra documents displayed on sandwich boards. (OK, white-out your name you big chicken)

    Openly and loudly lobby for “No-Fly” lineups with large signs designating them. The devil cannot abide to be mocked.

    Do some civil disobedience that is visible but not actionable. Get up their noses. Put enough sand in the gears so SOMETHING has to be done.

    The worst they can do is look up your colon.

  25. It’s your NAME that makes you a terrorist. Not something you’ve done, not something you’ve been suspected of doing — but your NAME.

    So if there are any other Osama bin Laden’s around, you’re a terrorist too!

  26. I’m starting to think this is much creepier than we realize.

    The TSA obviously has some sort of Philip K. Dick-style Precogs that know what’s going to happen in the future, a la Minority Report.

    They apparently know that little Sam is going to actually become a terrorist 12 years in the future.

    What they don’t fully understand yet is that the reason this is so is because they are actually the ones that are going to drive him to it by hassling him at the airport his whole life.

    We need to consult Tom Cruise on this one.

  27. I too ended up on the list. I too sent off the paperwork they requested. They then sent back this great answer:

    “Where it was determined that a correction to records was warranted, these records were modified to address any delay or denial of boarding that you may have experienced as a result of the watch list screening process.”

    I.e., we’re not telling you if you are still on the list. So I wrote them back — “Hey, yes or no, am I on the list?”

    There one sentence reply:

    “This all the language we have available at this time.”

    Can we shine the bat signal up in the sky to the ACLU?

  28. Let this be a lesson to all parents– forget the regular names and go Hollywood. Don’t name your kids common names that might be shared with possible terrorists, name them Dweezil and Moon-Unit, and Chastity, and Elijah Blue, and Shiloh, and . . .

  29. For anyone who saw 60 minutes last year when one of the reporters tried to get the head of TSA to answer the question: “Why is it so hard to get a name removed from the no fly list?” her response was to say that it takes time. It was as if she were being asked to reveal occult secrets.

  30. Biometrics & RFID
    This is just a push to have a mandated National ID and mandated IDs for foreigners in the US that contain biometric information and RFIDs.

    Once the now-fly list goes biometric, then it will be obvious that people who have the same name as someone on the no-fly list but don’t match the biometrics are ok.

    This is basically be an ugly nuisance to make people clamor for IDs that might keep them from being hassled.

  31. The TSA claims there are no eight-year-olds on the no-fly list. What they mean is that they maintain a system that makes security personnel scrutinize everyone whose name matches a name on the list, whether or not it’s reasonable to suspect them.

    There’ve been a number of cases of little kids getting pulled out of line for extra scrutiny because they have the wrong name. The youngest one I know of was four.

    The TSA says they’ve changed their policies, and little kids aren’t supposed to be given that treatment any more, but their employees keep doing it anyway.

    Some of the very common names that are on the list:

    Gary Smith
    John Williams
    Robert Johnson
    Dennis Wilson
    David Nelson
    Edward Allen
    John Lewis
    John Graham
    James Moore

    — and now, Sam Adams.

    As a commenter in another weblog put it:


    ROBERT is the #3 most common male name.
    3.143% of men in the US are named ROBERT.
    Around 3,850,175 US men are named ROBERT.

    JOHNSON is the #2 most common last name.
    0.81% of last names in the US are JOHNSON.
    Around 2025000 US last names are JOHNSON.

    A quick Yahoo search returned 12,156 people named “Robert Johnson” with listed phone numbers.

    Great friggin list. Glad that’s not my name.

    The list is so carelessly compiled that it includes surnames with just an initial letter — for instance, “T. Kennedy.” That meant everyone surnamed Kennedy whose given name starts with T was getting the special treatment, including Senator Ted Kennedy. They also have unaccompanied surnames; for instance, “McPhee.” That meant they were scrutinizing everyone named McPhee, including Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, a 62-year-old Dominican nun who’s the Secretary for Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    Wired has a great list of high-ranking military and government personnel who match the list and thus keep getting snagged.

    There are people on the list who should never have been put on it in the first place. As Takuan just pointed out, Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia is on it. (Actually, he’s on it three times.) So is Nabih Berri, who at the time this was discovered was head of the Lebanese Parliament, and had just met with Condoleezza Rice. There are also people on it who are known to be dead — fourteen out of the nineteen 9/11 suicide bombers, for instance, along with Saddam Hussein and Zacharaias Moussaoui (both of whom were in prison with no prospects of release when they were put on the list), and Francois Genoud, who does have terrorist ties but has been dead for more than a decade.

    Who’s not on the list? A significant number of known terrorists. It’s never been made clear why they’re not listed.

    Why this is a big honking problem:

    1. It’s not a small inconvenience. People whose names are on the list consistently report having to show up hours earlier than everyone else if they want to make their flight, and still sometimes missing it because they haven’t cleared the security check.

    2. The TSA has twice announced that it is reviewing all the names and cutting the list in half. In spite of this, the number of false positives remains high, and the list itself has been growing by about 200,000 names a year. Most recent estimate: 755,000 names, and growing. If you don’t have a unique surname, you could find out next time you fly that your name has been added to the list.

    3. Getting off the list is a long, tedious process that doesn’t always work. How you get onto the list is something the TSA remains unwilling to discuss.

    4. The longer the list gets, the less use it is. Vast amounts of energy and resources are wasted on it. Meanwhile, the overall airport security system the TSA oversees is full of holes. It’s a FEMA-grade snafu. One of the TSA’s own websites contained so many violations of basic security procedures and safeguards that investigators initially thought it was a phishing site.

    5. The watch list includes people who have no known ties to international terrorists groups, but are “believed to be domestic terrorists.” This supposedly means abortion clinic bombers, firebombing environmental extremists, and the like; but given the indiscriminate nature of the known portions of the no-fly list, and the Bush administration’s zero batting average when it comes to limiting their use of expanded powers to the purposes for which they were ostensibly intended, “domestic terrorism” could mean almost anything.

    6. According to USA Today, a recent report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) has said that:

    “Homeland Security has not done enough to use the list more broadly in the private sector, where workers applying for jobs in sensitive places such as chemical factories could do harm.

    [Leonard Boyle, Director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the list] also urges that the list be used by for screening at businesses where workers could “carry out attacks on our critical infrastructure that could harm large numbers of persons or cause immense economic damage.”

    That is: having your name on the no-fly list may, in the future, affect more than your ability to travel.

    7. The TSA has a consistent record of lying about what it’s doing to Congress, major government agencies, the press, and everyone else within earshot. It’s averse to transparency. It doesn’t hesitate to violate regulations and break the law. And when it vows to repent, nothing changes. See, for example, Bruce Schneier’s posts on the whole Secure Flight clstrfck:

    13 Jan. 2005: Secure Flight Privacy/IT Working Group
    31 Jan. 2005: TSA’s Secure Flight
    27 March 2005: TSA lied about protecting passenger data
    28 March 2005: GAO’s report on Secure Flight
    24 July 2005: Secure Flight
    15 August 2005: DHS seeking to remove Congressional oversight of Secure Flight
    26 September 2005: Secure Flight Privacy/IT Working Group Report finally made public
    02 Jan. 2007: DHS’s own Privacy Office releases disturbing report on Secure Flight

    Note: Bruce says 24 July 2005 is the one to read if you’re only reading one.

    8. There’s no guarantee that the TSA isn’t going to make travel even more difficult in times to come.

  32. Monkeyboy, both your estimate and mine postdate Kip Hawley’s statement that the list has been cut in half. I expect he had his fingers crossed again.

  33. @MADDY: “This all the language we have available at this time.” is one of the best things I’ve ever read. Apparently the TSA has such a limited vocabulary they could not form any other sentences with which to reply. The have actually run out of language. Brilliant!

    This sort of nonsense almost makes me glad that I can’t go on planes (for medical reasons).

    I’d love to hear a presidential candidate openly advocate for the abolition of the TSA and Homeland Security. These are ridiculous departments that waste our tax dollars, make a mockery of actual security, and actively work to deprive us of our civil liberties.

  34. Once upon a time,long, long ago, in a strange land called The Untied Snakes of Murca, a secret police force lived.

    During the Red Scare years, informants sold names to the FBI as piece work. IE: MORE NAMES, MORE MONEY.
    One bastard even went down to the football stadium and ruined countless lives by writing down random licence plates.

    Very little has changed.

  35. If you abolished the TSA, would you like to have any airline security? Perhaps just the honor system?

  36. @qousqous

    but our current federal administration (and that of his dad) hates portland….

    & our federal government has a long history of neutralizing powerful politicians who speak up for the rights of individual states and the individual… see thomas jefferson’s term as ambassador to france.

    & how is the tsa protecting me by taking my face wash out of my carryon and my pocketknife out of my (checked) luggage? i’m feeling more and more like i should just give up and bike and walk everywhere, like i do at home.

  37. @43 Kevin Hall
    There is one presidential candidate that is openly advocating the abolition of the TSA and DHS.
    Welcome to the R3volution!

  38. Okeydokey; two systems: one airline system for the paranoid, one for the others.
    And don’t give me any crap about crashing into buildings, a few bucks of solid door fixes that.

  39. @45: I trust my fellow citizens of the world a lot more than I trust the organs of the state, so if the only choice was between the TSA as it exists now and an honour system, I’d choose the honour system.

    Of course, you’ll have to explain under just what circumstances we would be faced with a binary choice between the TSA as it currently exists and no security at all. In the real world we have a huge range of choices, and an honour system is one of the most bizarre and unlikely amongst them, so it’s a little weird for you to pick it as the one to contrast with the current situation.

  40. Your disloyalty is duly noted and will be dealt with accordingly. RESPECT THE FATHERLAND! RESPECT OUR DEAR LEADER! RESPECT THE DEPARTMENT OF FATHERLAND SECURITY!

  41. Teresa,

    My understanding is that known terrorists are not on the list because if they were, that would tip them off that the government knows who they are.

    Utterly brilliant.

  42. Errrrrrr, we already do have an honour system. You mean like people electing not to blow up/hijack and crash aeroplanes because it is reprehensible? In’t that’s pretty much what most people think? Apart from the ones who don’t, of course. Who aren’t really all that bothered, one imagines, about the TSA employing high-school-dropouts to harass small boys named Robert Johnson.
    Because if there was a known terrorist called Robert Johnson (or such an alias had been used by someone), and he was planning to do something reprehensible to an aeroplane, he would use a different fucking name now wouldn’t he? In order to get on the plane, you see.

  43. @#51,

    Airline security existed before the TSA. It was just as ineffective, but a lot more congenial. Well, maybe not that much more congenial, but less self-important and much faster moving.

  44. Felixthecat said “Um, anyone else worried that the name Sam Adams is on the list? What about Tom Jefferson or Tom Paine? That would be truly scary.”

    Of COURSE they should be on the list. Them and any other terrorists that fall back on the Constitution to defend their “rights”. They should be tazed for good measure.

  45. It seems the only specific suggestion (so far) is to use Israel’s system, by which I presume is meant El Al’s system. The distinction matters because it is implemented by the airline, not by the State of Israel MPS or IDF or other agency. If you want to use that system in the US you need to figure out whether the individual airlines are responsible for executing it, or whether some other agency is going to do it for all the airlines.

    If the individual airlines are responsible, then we’re back to pre-9/11 conditions and you have to hope that Ozark Redneck Air Express knows how to profile a terrorist. If you decide that’s too inefficient and unpredictable and it makes more sense to have a separate agency implement the El Al system, then you effectively have the TSA back, which is a problem since you were hot on abolishing it rather than reforming it.

    Whichever way you go, with your El Al system in place, you now have a bevy of measures that have hitherto driven Boing Boing posters into spluttering seizures of vein-popping rage. Longish interviews about where you are going and why. Complete bag checks under watchful eyes – including your 5 year old mascot, by the way. Racial and/or religious profiling. Armed men and women on every flight taking up seats you can’t fly in.

    Two final points: #1, every airline and law enforcement agency in the world already learns from El Al and implements that subset of its practices that would be (a) lawful and (b) stand a snowball’s chance of being tolerated by the flying public – including the recently reported behavior profiling. #2, unless you want one official “Air USA” state run airline, you’re not going to get the rest of it without something LIKE the TSA. Everybody agrees that TSA needs to improve. You should write your Congressperson urging them to help this happen. But the personally insulting, quasi-anarchic venom and “abolish it!” talk is not helping the discourse IMHO.

    h, nd pc th sck-pppt-bsssd “mdrtr,” n, m nt TS lwyr :)

  46. TSA and DHS are a logical extension of the prison industry. With a couple of million behind bars,a million on parole, why not a million on government shit lists? This all generates business and jobs. Isn’t America about free enterprise? The waroncommies was good in its time, the warondrugs industry still makes good profits, the waronterror business can be milked for decades to come.

    You are all commodities.

  47. Man, I seriously hope everyone is right about 2012. We’ve gone far past the point of no return and into a whole new Dark Age. We need to start over with a clean slate.

  48. I admire your balls Tom Neff – but the main point here is that the TSA should have an idea how old the names on the list are – e.g. Osama Bin Laden (for it is not he) is NOT a child. Gosh – easy isn’t it.
    The TSA is so obviously full of lying idiots that it should be pretty easy to circumvent them – which is really not what we want.
    The TSA should be replaced by people with honesty and brains.
    Yeah – I know – never going to happen in the USA…

  49. I posted this elsewhere, but will post it again here. This happened a bit over 2 years ago, but I think it`s still valid, as it was the TSA.

    -On a trip to the US, where I am a citizen – I was
    fingerprinted, photographed, had my baby strip searched in the middle of the airport, and left unattended, suitcase broken open because they were too lazy to open the clasp, had things inside my suitcase broken open and pierced to “check contents” and then tossed back in to leak on everything else, and then almost detained because my baby was naked (from the strip search!?!?) and posing a health hazard – which made us so late that we missed the flight…

    This was apparently all because I looked suspicious when telling my mother in law to meet me by such-and-such on the other side of immigration, and because it seems there is someone on the no-fly list who shares the same first three letters of their name with that of my son. We (my son and I) were pulled aside first and I was told that he was on the no-fly list… I pointed out that he was 1, and it was doubtful that the list was referring to him.

    They took my son away from me, strip searched him (held up by his hands) and left him on the floor (naked) on the other side of glass when they finished.
    Then they moved on to searching and interrogating me. I was asked what I was doing traveling with someone on the list, why I had talked to a non-US citizen on the way to immigration, and was told point blank that my son had no rights at this point, and that he would most likely have to be detained.

    I cried. I begged them to just let us go home! He`s a baby. He can`t possibly be on the list.

    Apparently they consider this resisting. I was told to shut up, did I want to be “detained” too? After about 15 minutes, they decided that my son didn`t pose a threat, and they plopped him (still naked) *outside* their little TSA booth – on the floor, in a busy airport. I could see him from inside, but wasn`t allowed to go get him. I`m guessing that they weren`t allowed to take him out of my sight. They never told me anything. I was terrified someone would just pick him up and run.

    I was scared to death that they`d never let me go home. After about an hour – possibly more as it was long enough that we completely missed our flight – they just let us go. A woman came and finally rehashed our search after getting my son from outside the booth (once you`ve been out there they have to check again, apparently.) She was nice, apologized for the inconvenience, etc. She was the only person there who didn`t have their name tag conveniently turned around backward or tucked into a pocket, covered by a sticker, etc.

    When we were finally released from the booth, I was stopped immediately by another presumably non-TSA security guard and told my son posed a health hazard by being naked, and that I needed to get clothes on him NOW or come with him to the office. I don`t think I`ve ever dressed my son so quickly.

    We missed our flight though and ended up staying overnight. I can`t tell you how scared I was going through the checkpoint the next day – but while they did pull us aside, they only did the typical wand check, and we passed through without a hitch. Different TSA people, totally different experience.

    I have been asked multiple times why I just didn`t complain a bunch and inform them of our rights, blah blah blah.
    When they`ve got your baby on the other side of glass, and are telling you that they might not let him leave the country with you…. You don`t want to risk anything. Nothing is worth losing my family.

    I only seriously thought about complaining once we were home and safe, but I only had the name of the one single nice person. And as time passed, I figured that as long as it had been since the event itself, it was a waste of time.

  50. A tale indeed.

    What “colour” are you? I ask from the perspective of one who sees no concept of “race”.

  51. Tom Neff, if you google around, you’ll find that article after article, dated from before 9/11, on the failures of American airport security. The airline industry lobbied heavily to reduce security requirements. After 9/11, they lobbied heavily for bailouts because they lost so much money when people were unwilling to fly.

    Here’s a question for you: what about that situation, or the post-9/11 world, mandated the creation of an overprivileged, unaccountable government department that’s ignoring everything we know about effective security?

    What would we use for security if we didn’t have DHS and the TSA? I hope we’d set up an organization that knows what it’s doing and takes its duties seriously.

    I know people who’ve done real security work. They would have spotted the “print your own forged boarding pass” loophole. They’d know that no airport is safe if Sky Harbor in Phoenix is wide open for four hours every night, because once someone is inside the security airlock at one airport, they’re also inside the airlock at any other airport they fly to. And they sure as hell wouldn’t be wasting vast amounts of effort, and bringing airport security into disrepute, by maintaining a nearly useless list that generates false positives 97.5% of the time.

    You tell me: what legitimate security interests are served by detaining and mistreating toddlers and their families because the kid’s name matches one on the list?

    What security interests are served by putting out a list that contains the isolated surname “McPhee,” thus bringing endless trouble to everyone who bears that name? What is there about our situation that makes it necessary to circulate that name without the accompanying information that it was once used as an alias by someone in Afghanistan who was suspected of having terrorist ties?

    The choice, as I suspect you know, is not between the TSA as currently constituted and having no security at all. What we want is real, sane, reasonable airport security. What we all know is that a system that detains a toddler because he’s named Sam Adams doesn’t qualify.

    Andy3000 (52), I’m not going to say “you’re kidding,” because I’m sure you’re not; but I wish you were. These guys are known terrorists. They’re on other publicly accessible lists of known terrorists. They know we know, we know they know. And they’re not on the no-fly list.

    I look forward to a change of administrations for many reasons, but not least among them is the hope that we can start working our way back to having a minimally competent government.

    Porori (62), that’s a dreadful story, and I’m truly sorry it happened to you. Can you say any more about it, like which airport it was? (If not, I can’t blame you.)

    Gilbert Wham (54), well said.

  52. @51: Abolishing the TSA as currently constituted does not equate to abolishing all airport security, although personally I wouldn’t have a problem with that. The reality is that right now, there is a far greater threat to me (a foreigner) from the organs of the state than there is from terrorists. On the (rare) occasions I can’t avoid travel to the U.S. I am painfully aware that one rent-a-cop having a bad day could ruin my life. I don’t give terrorism any thought at all.

    That said, there are obviously a variety of potential replacements for the TSA as it currently exists. One is to reform the TSA as it currently exists. Then it would no longer be the TSA as it currently exists. As many posters have said, “the TSA needs to be eliminated and replaced with something better”.

    When you claim that any agency replacing the TSA would be just like the TSA, you appear to be having difficulty with the concept of a federal agency that isn’t staffed by morons following policies that have no rational justifications. Given the history of federal agencies in the U.S. I can see where you’re coming from, but trust me: it is possible for government agencies to do their job competently. For example, despite legitimate concerns over illegal wiretapping and whatnot, the FBI has done a generally good job of counter-terrorism, which is after all a police problem, not a military problem.

    Another alternative to the TSA is indeed to hand responsibility for security back to airlines or airports. I see no problem with this. It worked extremely well prior to 9/11, and there is no reason to believe that the current system would have prevented the nineteen nitwits from getting on those planes.

  53. FFB, I am just trying to think the problem through, which should not take balls but apparently does these days.

    People who believe there should not be any airport security are certainly entitled to their beliefs, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, and if it did in the US, there are a lot of countries you couldn’t fly to anymore.

    People who think the airlines should take back the security job ought to take a look at the financial pages: most carriers are teetering on the brink of insolvency or have run off the edge of it and are windmilling frantically in space like Wile E. Coyote. They can’t afford to clean their bathrooms every flight, let alone install state of the art security.

    The TSA was created and staffed in response to a need for LOTS of checkers NOW, on a generous but hardly Pentagon-caliber budget. They got what you’d expect, a large workforce willing to work for fairly low wages either out of belief in the crisis – and some of those people generated the early horror stories – or because it was good money from their economic rung’s vantage point.

    Which reminds me of the lovely little class component in some of the TSA backlash. Watch how readily people call them “trash,” “morons,” “scum” and so forth, or say things like “go back to the shoe store.” Bet they like Nasss Car huh?! That kind of thing really burns me.

    These people aren’t our inferiors. A lot of them are ex-police, ex-military. They take on thankless, grueling work where any slipup could mean a CNN headline, and they’re treated like vermin by some of the people they’re trying to protect.

    I have to close for sleep, there will be more.

  54. Y’all do realize that all of this airline
    security is absolutely useless, right? The opponent:

  55. is not a one-trick pony
  56. has demonstrated the willingness to spend many
    years planning
  57. is not stupid
  58. has demonstrated the ability to identify and exploit the system
  59. is well-funded
  60. is willing to die

    Pathetic security theater such as we see from
    the TSA and the rest of the fools at the DHS will not deter such an opponent; it’s far more
    likely to amuse them…while they do what any
    competent attacker would do: evade countermeasures.

    I’m sure, somewhere in remote locations, news
    of fiascos like this will eventually reach them.
    And they will laugh their asses off at the
    knowledge that we did this to ourselves.

  61. The kids can’t be taken off the no fly list, because they are not on it in the first place. If they were on it, they would not eventually be allowed on the flight.

    The mere existence of such a list is repugnant to the Constitution, to our natural rights, and to common decency.

  62. TSA personnel are not volunteers. Apart from those that would do it for free and strip searches, the rest are in it for a paycheck. Not altruism.

    People have to take moral responsibility for what they do. The “only following orders” excuse is just that, an excuse.

  63. Takuan; I`m unmistakably white. My son is half Japanese, but barely looks it. We live in Japan.

    Teresa; It was the Chicago O’Hare airport, October of 2005. I have made up my mind that I will never visit the US as long as these silly “security” measures are in effect, and I`m definitely not worried that they`re going to come track me down about it. If they feel a burning desire to look up my name and stick me on the list for talking about what happened, they really have way too much time on their hands.
    I know that my story has discouraged quite a few friends of ours from visiting the US, as if something like that happens to an actual citizen (in my case, at least. My son only has Japanese citizenship.) who knows what could happen to a non-citizen.

    I end up feeling like I would be safer under the umbrella of another country`s citizenship though.

  64. How do the ticket agents know yr 5-yr old’s name? Did he show them his driver’s license?

    Next time, try buying a ticket for Samuel Adams. Or Michael Adams? Or whatever his middle name is?

  65. Porori: Thank you for your reply. We have something in common.

    While we are discussing; Japan recently introduced severe foreigner control measures. Do you have any stories to compare?

  66. Takuan;

    At least the Japanese measures are polite and I certainly don`t feel threatened by them. I can`t say I`m *happy* about the changes of course…

    But still, if Japan can manage to get me in the country with less hassle, it`s a lot better than the US. I`m a US citizen, and Japan treating me better says a lot in my book. No hassle is best, but it would take a LOT to make the system worse than what I experienced on our US trip.

    While the measures are a pain, it really feels expected – being as almost every other country out there is doing something similar. I would like them to be a bit less strict when it comes to those with valid long term visas though.

    I think far too many people are directing their energies at complaining about how they are treated in technically foreign countries (I say technically because I have lived here since I was a legal child, so it`s a bit of a stretch to call it “foreign”) when they should really be complaining about how they are treated in their home country. But for some reason, the US is excused, while they throw fits about an extra few minutes passing through immigration in Japan.

  67. So.

    It seems to me that even one such as yourself, who has been attacked in the vilest way, would be able to at least tolerate reasonably strict security measures if a modicum of basic human decency, politeness and common sense were employed.

    Back to the TSA staff: Why are you so damned rude and willfully inflexible? Are you so badly abused by TSA adminstration that you must release your rage on others?

  68. As another reader observed, US has developed twisted mentality of avoiding any responsibility at any cost. What has happened to your spirit of individuality, people!? Has it it survived only in movies and cartoons?

    This no-fly list nonsense is really hard to explain. One doesn’t know which possibility is more chilling:

  69. This is a part of conspiracy to “train” population to slowly, one by one, give up they privacy rights, and later even other, more fundamental ones
  70. This is simply a result of sheer stupidity. Do I feel comfortable that administration so stupid controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal?
  71. Well, the truth probably is that the list and similar nonsense came into being as panicked, knee-jerk reaction of incompetent administration, and now the bureaucracy fed by it is too fat and too powerful to allow reason to prevail.

    I used to like visiting your country. This sounds like a cliché, but I found Americans, from sophisticated New Yorkers to “rednecks” the most hospitable people I met. But now I avoid traveling over the pond.

    I don’t follow your presidential campaign closely enough to know whether candidates have clear position on this mess, but this is the only opportunity you will have to make things right.

    Another note: as European, where national IDs are common, I don’t find them too intrusive of dangerous for privacy. Bad government guys who want to identify and follow you will find a way without it. You are using all kinds of “ersatz” IDs already: SSN, driver’s license, passport. Standardized ID makes legitimate identification easier; lack of it doesn’t make abuse much more difficult.

  72. I am changing my middle name to “Monongahela” to prevent problems such as the one described in this post.

  73. Tom (65):

    “When you claim that any agency replacing the TSA would be just like the TSA, you appear to be having difficulty with the concept of a federal agency that isn’t staffed by morons following policies that have no rational justifications. … trust me: it is possible for government agencies to do their job competently.”

    Absolutely true. The idea that government is always venal and corrupt is a meme deliberately spread by factions that want the rest of us — the everyday citizenry — to stop caring about our government and leave it in their hands.

    “Another alternative to the TSA is indeed to hand responsibility for security back to airlines or airports. I see no problem with this. It worked extremely well prior to 9/11, and there is no reason to believe that the current system would have prevented the nineteen nitwits from getting on those planes.”

    Actually, that system had serious problems. The airlines went for the lowest possible security costs, all the while lobbying for lower security standards.

    The airline industry was effectively in collusion with two private “security” companies, Argenbright and Huntleigh, which between them provided the baggage screeners at almost every airport in the country. Argenbright and Huntleigh weren’t actually in the business of providing security. Their real expertise was in satisfying the letter of the law at the lowest possible cost.

    Wages were bone-scrapingly low. Neither company provided benefits. Employee training was minimal, and they assigned no value to experience. The only area where Argenbright and Huntleigh were enterprising and enthusiastic was employee intimidation: both were repeatedly cited for labor violations. (Huntleigh’s management had other bad habits as well.) As a result, baggage screener positions had a turnover rate of between one hundred and four hundred percent annually.

    (They lost a lot of employees to fast-food franchises in the terminal concourses, where the pay, benefits, and prospects for advancement were better, and management was more humane.)

    The effect this had on overall airport security was a well-known problem long before 9/11. The GAO and FAA had been issuing warnings about it for years. Simply raising the required standards wouldn’t have helped, because the airlines would still have gone for the lowball bids. Each airline’s unacknowledged wager was that if a bad guy got a weapon past security, he was just as likely to wind up on someone else’s flight as on one of theirs. It was a rational calculation, for severely limited values of “rational.” Passengers regarded airport security as a nuisance, and were far more concerned about ticket prices.

    The invisible hand of the marketplace has no brain attached to it.

    Air travel isn’t a matter of separate airlines, separate routes, and individual airports. It’s an interlinked system, and has to be treated as one. A giant hole in security at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix can let explosive devices or automatic weapons get through to any flight or airport in the country.

    The overhaul of the system after 9/11 provided an opportunity for a fresh start and a real nationwide air travel security system. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

    Tom Neff (67):

    “FFB, I am just trying to think the problem through, which should not take balls but apparently does these days.”

    I’ve never felt the lack, myself. I do my thinking with a different organ.

    “Which reminds me of the lovely little class component in some of the TSA backlash. Watch how readily people call them “trash,” “morons,” “scum” and so forth, or say things like “go back to the shoe store.” Bet they like Nasss Car huh?! That kind of thing really burns me.”

    I think you’re seeing something that isn’t there. The criticism of airline security employees in this thread hasn’t been class-based. The resentment is based on the unchecked power they exercise over us, and the stupid (and sometimes malicious) ways they exercise it. NASCAR has not been mentioned.

    About 30% of Boing Boing’s readers are not in the United States. If you’re paying attention, it’s clear that quite a lot more than 30% of the participants in this thread are not hidebound landlocked USians, wherever they’re logging in from. I see no reason for you to go wishing old-fashioned American class resentments on them.

    Risk (68): I think they got lucky once, are otherwise variably competent, and have the same attention spans as other members of our species.

    Porori (71): I believe you. This is a story that should get wider circulation, if you’re willing.

    Thegid (72): Good point. Does anyone have to present documentation on the identity of their infants and toddlers? If not, who knows what they’re named?

    Takuan (75): I don’t know as much about how the current security personnel are treated as I do about pre-9/11 employees. What I do know is that they have vast authority, next to no accountability, and an irrational system to enforce. It’s practically a recipe for bad behavior.

    Bonzi (76), it’s incompetence and indifference to results. The Bush administration filled the government with its friends and the friends of its friends. Public service is neither their primary motivation nor their area of professional expertise.

  74. Shiron (79), if the list doesn’t specify Robert Johnson’s middle name (which it doesn’t), Robert Monongahela Johnson will get pulled out for a special security check, as will Robert Louis Johnson, Robert Habib Johnson, and Robert Esplanade Gneesmacher Johnson.

  75. These kids need to be trained to act appropriately when undergoing the “extra” TSA screening.

    Crying, and screaming their heads of about “bad touch!” and molestation, for example.

  76. They’d never keep it straight, and next thing you know they’d be doing it at the grocery checkout.

  77. I had sat down to finish my sleep-interrupted posting from yesterday, but I notice that the “moderator” has draped a full set of pseudopods, so I’ll wait till tomorrow after my (surprise!) airline flight.

  78. Teresa @80: I stand corrected on the pre-9/11 situation. My experience as a Canadian is probably a little weird because we can often pass through U.S. customs in a Canadian airport, and the security measures encountered prior to 9/11 always seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

    Takuan @66: The undoubted fact that the FBI has sometimes proven to be incompetent is not proof that the FBI is (unqualified) incompetent. I am sometimes incompetent too! In software development there is a process referred to as “pushing the bozo button”, when someone’s mistake gets them designated a “bozo” whose every subsequent action is interpreted as idiocy. Even the TSA hasn’t reached a point where that is justified, and the FBI is far from it.

    The important feature of the FBI and other well-established federal organs is that they have robust accountability, so as the article you link makes manifest, when they screw up (which being human they will) we know about it, and there is a somewhat rational debate about what could be done about it. This is not the case with the TSA, whose policies aren’t even self-consistent (taking “dangerous” liquids from passengers and throwing them in barrels where they sit for hours posing a “danger” to passers-by is an example of this.)

    Tom Neff @67: exactly why did airports need “lots of screeners now” after 9/11? The raw assumption that this and only this is the appropriate response to 9/11 is exactly the sort of thing that those of us using things other than our organs of generation to think these issues through are questioning. It may be “obvious” to you that this is the appropriate thing to have done, but it is not obvious to me. To me, the obvious response to 9/11 was to do nothing much, although I confess to being ignorant that the pre-9/11 situation was as unsatisfactory as Teresa describes.

    It is still my default position that “no security is good security.” Security measures beyond minimal checks to ensure that no obvious weapons brought on the plane still seem to me adequate. When you are moving hundreds of people per minute through checkpoints you have to take a certain amount on trust and you have to accept a certain level of inherent risk. Although others obvious differ, security is not my top priority. Liberty is.

  79. the link I posted re the FBI computer debacle was an underhanded attempt to bring the supreme evil that is SAIC to light.

    You have been warned.

  80. Takuan (75);
    Security measures don`t bother me so much. In a (my) perfect world, security would be efficient, effective, and the end result would be to feel safer. The only people who should feel threatened should be those who have something to worry about – innocent parties should not be intimidated. The TSA seems to threaten everyone. Instead of being efficient or effective, it`s main tactic seems to be intimidation. It`s nothing but a waste of time and resources. It manages to fail at all three.
    And in the end, despite searching us multiple times, they somehow managed to totally miss my purse. I had a wine utility knife thing that I had forgotten about in there. A knife.
    It`s almost funny.

    Shiron (79); My son`s name begins with Mo. That was apparently enough. His name is about as uncommon as it comes. Didn`t make a speck of difference.

    Teresa (80); I don`t particularly mind the story being spread about… However, since it happened I have been told that the policies related to separating children from their parents have changed. From what I understand, the child has to remain with the parent at all times now. So technically, what happened to me should not be able to occur in the current system. Of course, that`s assuming they follow the “rules”, which I don`t really trust them to do.


    I don`t really mind security measures. Back before 9/11 and the TSA, I frequently flew to the US, and was occasionally selected for a more in depth search. I never felt threatened, and the inspectors were friendly while being thorough. Sure, it was a pain to have them go through my bags from top to bottom, but it wasn`t an *attack* on me. We`d laugh, and once when I was carrying a bunch of handmade gifts from my grandmother-in-law, the man even complimented them and asked how they were made.
    I knew that as I was innocent, there was nothing for me to be afraid of. Now, innocent or not, it feels like if they want to find something… They will. That is NOT a good feeling.

  81. I think we can all agree that everyone is in favour of security measures.

    We can also agree that we all know when we are being bullied and taken advantage of.

    As a passive resistance measure, perhaps all air travelers could wear badges that say: “We know what you are doing”

    They could be shaped like Stars of David.

  82. What gets me is all the buck-passing that goes on . . . the airlines pass it to TSA, then back to the airlines it goes . . . yet no one is responsible. It’s maddening!

  83. After reading this blog and piecing in some information from the local papers and other sources, I am firmly of the opinion that we are all taking a ride on the short bus when it comes to the TSA. The system was thrown together as commented earlier as a knee jerk reaction to the events of 9/11. Then the beaurocratic machine took over feeding the beast and it grew. Now the behemouth is alive and well in our airports.

    MEANWHILE, back at the lab, the mad scientists are creating the new beast, one which will be more palatable to the average citizen. The new beast being the REAL ID system. It could and would work if handled intelligently and realistically, but as with every other government program, it will be beaten to a pulp at every angle by different special interest groups, gov’t profiteering, and beaurocratic BS, thus leaving us with another garbage program.

    Civil libertarians grouse that the Real ID will be a invasion of privacy, big brother, etc… The truth is Big Brother already exists. He may not be sentient yet, but he exists. The information is out there and every move we make is monitored in one form or another. Granted 99% of the info is ignored, useless crap, or filed away in one folder or other never to be seen or heard from again. Personally, I have no problem with the government knowing about what I do. I am doing nothing I care to hide from anyone in the government. Until they pass a law making the “Naked Fun With Produce” website illegal (just kidding), I don’t see that monitoring of any of my activities as a problem. Between the fact that they can find out anything about you if they look in the right place anyway and the fact that we NEED security and protection from the elements that wish us harm, I say go ahead with it on the Real ID program. At least it will eliminate a certain amount of the false hits on the watch lists. Perhaps this is why we have such a horrid system in place now. Perhaps, it is greasing the tracks to ease acceptance on the Real Id or another system.

    The lack of security is just ludicrous. We had security prior to 9/11 and it worked up until someone decided to crash a plane into some buildings, and any system will work until someone finds a way to circumvent it. Thus, comes the problem with the Real ID system. Fred in Walla Walla will want his special ID to have a picture of his cat on it. Mary in Miami will want a beach scene. Sen. Harmon from whereever will want the jobs of making the IDs in his state and will do anything to get it passed. Congressman Whomever will want his buddies company to do the background checks (although the buddy isn’t qualified) and make a lot of money. Tommy in Tupelo will want his past indescretions removed from the record and will creat a stink over his records being attached. Willie in Wilmington who works for the ID system will take $250 to make a fake one for Billie the Kid. Hank the hacker will get a kick out of breaking into the system and expunging the records of his buddy who owes him money. Habib the terrorist will find one of these people to make it possible for him to get an ID. In short, as with every government agency, people will still be involved in the process and people (in part not as a whole) are self centered, greedy, and corrupt. This creates yet another system which won’t work.

    Now that I have spouted off about the problems, do I have a better idea? No, but I see the ID system as an inevitable future (Read Revelations in the Bible) This Real Id will also lead to the end of the monetary system eventually and a worldwide “credits” system (Some will also argue this is not a bad idea), the end of personal freedom to the point of anonymity ( a point which if you are doing nothing wrong what does it matter), and better government control of us all (Now that one is a scary thought). Do I think it can be stopped or changed? For the better? not really. For the worse? of course.

    So you say “ok smart a@@, so what are you gonna do about it?” Probably, gripe on here, pray alot, and otherwise bury my head in the sand and wait for it all to be over. Hey, it may not be for everyone but it works for me.

  84. If a machine is built to do a job,and one day that job goes away… what will that machine do?

    Build enough prisons to be a significant part of your economy and they will always be full.

  85. Apparently terrorists are wholely incapable of changing their names…just like how school shooters are wholly incapble of barging in with their guns blazing and skipping the whole metal detector /frisking/ bag banning routine.

    …and racist profiling is dumb too, /especially/ in this era of accessible Star Trek make-up. Ever seen White Chicks (2004)

  86. Hello, my name is Robert Mitchell, and I’m also on the no fly list. BTW, there are about 20 Robert Mitchells just in my local phone book, so there must be 100s of Robert Mitchell stopped in airports every day. I’ve tried all the steps to get off the list, but still, I have to go through all the steps that little Sam Adams does. And it sucks. But it’s not what I any rational person would call a “nightmare,” as Sam’s whiny mom puts it. Talk about milking a situation for her 15 minutes of fame. It’s a stupid inconvenience, not a nightmare. Americans can be so lame.

  87. So when is the new baby namer coming out that includes “most burdensome names”? Oh wait, there may be no program to keep up with the ever increasing size of the no fly list.

  88. It makes people not even wanna fly or travel anymore. You have to worry about a 5 yr old being a terrorist.Now I have to worry about going somewhere and my name being on the no-fly list. I mean come one! A 5 yr old? what’s the worse thing he could’av done. spilled his milk during snack time? Yea, we’re all in danger. Its all about the governement controlling us all in yet another way and trying to make us fear them. Yet again giving the government more power and the people less control over their own lives. The government has so much hiding from society and most of us dont even know. why else would they detain a 5 yr old boy?

  89. My 11 month infant is on the list. I’m now beginning the process of submitting a DHS-TRIP request to have him removed so he won’t face a lifetime of airport harassment. They should add a Do Not Name list to baby name books that includes the No Fly list.

  90. FYI, the TSA doesn’t have a “no fly list”. The list of names they get is from other gov’t agencies, such as the FBI. The airlines also have a list of names of passengers that they had problems with in the past(unruly, or drunken passengers, etc.).

    I was in the TSA for 2 years. Never saw a list. There just isn’t one. The airlines see a list of names, and mark the ticket for extra screening(this is done by computer automatically, and can also be done manually). The TSA screeners see the ticket with the marking and follow procedures accordingly. I’ve never screened a child whose ticket was marked if no one else in their family was marked for extra screening.

    If any of you were actually on a “no fly list”, you wouldn’t even make it to the security checkpoint. The airlines wouldn’t give you a ticket.

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