TSA puts commercial pilots on no-fly and terrorist watch lists

Here are a couple of accounts of commercial airline pilots, one of whom has been put on the TSA's no-fly list and the other is on the terrorist watch-list, for reasons that no one will disclose.
A Gulf War veteran and his wife say they've been unfairly placed on a federal list that limits their commercial flight access and threatens his job as a commercial pilot. To fight back, the couple, who are Muslim, filed a lawsuit today against a host of U.S. government agencies. "We don't know why they're on the list. They don't know why they're on the list. The government won't tell us why they're on the list," said Amy Foerster, an attorney with Saul Ewing, who is providing pro bono counsel and working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Schuylkill County couple on the case, which was filed in U.S. district court...

James Robinson is a retired Air National Guard brigadier general and a commercial pilot for a major airline who flies passenger planes around the country. James Robinson is a retired brigadier general and a commercial pilot. His name is on the terrorist "watch list."

He has even been certified by the Transportation Security Administration to carry a weapon into the cockpit as part of the government's defense program should a terrorist try to commandeer a plane.

But there's one problem: James Robinson, the pilot, has difficulty even getting to his plane because his name is on the government's terrorist "watch list."

Robinson is one of many James Robinsons on the list, including a 5-year-old. Good news, though -- all you need to do to avoid the secondary screening is fly under your initials, rather than name. Better hope the terrorists never figure that out. Ho ho ho. Airline captain, lawyer, child on terror 'watch list', Grounded pilot, wife sue over 'no-fly' list (via MeFi)


  1. Here’s hoping they win! Civil suits seem to be the only way to fight this unconstitutional madness.

  2. Will they be reimbursing for flights that are cancelled due to the pilot being banned from the flight?

  3. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, here is your purser speaking. We are running into a slight delay because your captain is a suspected terrorist’

  4. I know why the pilot is on the watchlist: he’s a muslim. What more reason do they need?

    It sickens me how America is treating it’s muslim citizens. Don’t they realize that the way to stop terrorists is to show them that there is an alternative, a place where everyone is accepted regardless of race and where people don’t discriminate.

    I have many muslim friends, they are some of the greatest people I know. It makes me ill to think about what they have to go through because of their religion.

  5. Another thing that happens is that people with very common names are placed on watch lists, ala everyone in America named Richard Reid, and additionally, anyone whose name is an anagram of Richard Reid. It IS possible to get off the no-fly list by making a request to the TSA, but then you are placed on a list you will NEVER get off of, namely “PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN ON THE FEDERAL NO FLY LIST”. Good luck getting off THAT list.

  6. Tuttle=Buttle=Kennedy=Robinson

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is an idiot.

    The nonsense du jour coming out of his mouth about the airlines is no different than fixing blame on the victim. Story after story about the fucked up Department of Homeland Security give me no confidence in their ability to provide any level of security.

    Cases like this help shine a light on the madness.

  7. I thought I had better check this out.

    Interestingly, my name is an anagram for “Hark, cereal ladle!”

    But more ominously, it can also make “Cradle Allah reek.”

    No doubt TSA has me on their no-fly list since the letters of my name can form “Allah”–like I need another reason to hate flying on commercial airlines.

  8. OK, second paragraph, I got it the first time: he’s a retired general and a commercial pilot.

  9. … is a retired Air National Guard brigadier general …

    Maybe he isn’t one of the Generals Bush is listening to.

  10. Well, they’re *clearly* bad people. Why else would they be on a terrorist watch list? And, if you’re trying to find out why they’re on the list, you must be a bad person as well for supporting them. Only bad people support bad people.

    Sigh … I hate the logic of sheep.

  11. I suspect they were trying to get the TSA inspectors on the new fly list so that they wouldn’t f*ck up the airplanes.

    Unless, of course, those inspectors are actually TERRORISTS!

  12. Why ain’t this a surprise? Just put everyone on the fkin list, background checks and National ID cards all around; buy your damn underwear, a disposable phone and rent a computer or cloud compute when you get there, toiletries are waiting.

  13. no no Frank (@#6), Micheal Chertoff is NOT an idiot. Kip Hawley is an idiot, Micheal Chertoff is a dangerous, fascist monster. Remember that when you see his name on the extermination edicts.

  14. After calming down somewhat, I can’t believe U.S. corporations are sitting still for this BS. Their profits and and those of every service provider still depend on business travelers moving freely and securely with proprietary corporate data. Why haven’t the larger travel dependent corporations, and the corporations that depend on them, demanded solutions?

  15. FoetusNail: who says they’re not getting them? We know that they have the CLEAR program, which trades personal biometrics and a bit of cash for avoidance of some of the security theater. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that someone can get off the watch list if they work for a corporation that lobbies for the TSA to get more funding.

  16. No one knows why they’re on the list?

    “… the couple, who are Muslim,”

    Solved that stumper right there.

  17. CLEAR? Oh,you mean the one where they gave the list of names on the laptop to the terrorists?

    DHS and TSA gives the benefit of the doubt to no one. Tens of thousands of good and innocent people are abused by them daily. Little children, the old, the sick. Why then, should any decent person give the benefit of the doubt to the TSA?

  18. Here’s an unrelated unicorn chaser for y’all BBers.

    I flew for a vacation recently, with a stopover. I was upset at having to take off my shoes, empty my pockets, and all that. The TSA staff was all smiles. We had a layover, and more security. All smiles, and no problems. I was freaked out the entire time, worried that I would have to argue about them copying my data, inspecting my colon, etc. I am a caucasiod freaky longhair. All smiles on the way back too.

    Oddly enough, we were able to smiggle four bottles of wine in our checked luggage, which arived unbroken. I was sure that at least two of ’em would be broken. This was a domestic US flight, though.

    As upset about having to deal with the airport as I was (and drunk too), there were no out of the ordinary problems from the TSA. I did have my shoes off, ticket and ID ready, and fair skin though.

  19. At some point, the Obama campaign will use this as a reasonable argument against for McSame. Right after they get over that bad case of Democrat Spine Deficiency.

    I haven’t heard much from Ralph Nader, or Bob Barr on this, but if any Green or Libertarian party members out there know if there’s press releases on the TSA / No Fly list nonsense being put out (not extrapolations, things candidates have actually said) I’d appreciate hearing about it.

  20. While I totally agree with preventing potential terrorists from flying planes, they need to sort out their process for putting people on the list.

  21. #4 Ask some of your Muslim friends how Muslims are treated in Europe. The US is all peaches and cream in comparison.

    Frankly, I’ve only seen Americans bend over backwards when they meet Muslims to demonstrate that they are not prejudiced.

  22. JJasper: you bring up an interesting point. None of the candidates have spoken out about the TSA although it would be an easy, populist argument.

    I guess they don’t make any promises about it, even during election time, because they have no intention of changing anything.

  23. Frankly, I’ve only seen Americans bend over backwards when they meet Muslims to demonstrate that they are not prejudiced.

    I only know someone is a Muslim if they tell me, and I don’t ask unless it is a discussion about religion or something. Do the Muslims where you live have to wear special patches on their clothes or something?

  24. #1 Then clearly its not unconstitutional. Is there something in the US Constitution on no fly lists?

    #4 “muslim” is a race?

    #15 The cost of this is greater than the cost of health care? Not even close and what are corporations doing about that? Get real.

    #16 I wouldn’t be surprised that you are making this up either. In fact I know that you are.

    #17 Are there non-Muslim terrorists that we should be worried about?

    #19 You are allowed to carry wine in checked luggage. You smuggled nothing but your imagination. Is this the first time you ever flew before?

  25. #26, Remmelt: #17 Are there non-Muslim terrorists that we should be worried about?

    I doubt you didn’t think of this–more likely you’re just eliding it for your argument–but, ah, ask Oklahoma City what religion their most recent terrorist was.

    Past performance is no indicator of future practice, if I may paraphrase–and that goes for Christian Americans who blow shit up as well as Saudi citizens who hijack planes. If you take a group’s past actions to dictate your worry, please also profile white Christian male American former military, buying fertilizer. Apologies if you already do worry about this group and I have misunderstood you!

  26. “#17 Are there non-Muslim terrorists that we should be worried about?”

    There’s between 1 billion to 1.8 billion people who practice Islam. Putting people on a list merely because they are Muslim isn’t very practical. It’s like putting every white teenage male on a list because a couple of them caused injury and death in high schools.

    “Why haven’t the larger travel dependent corporations, and the corporations that depend on them, demanded solutions?” Don’t they all have private jets?

  27. @#27 – Corporations are pushing the costs for healthcare back to their employees, either directly or indirectly through the use of tax Dollars.

  28. The TSA obviously hires inbreeders. That said, for Oskar @4, “I know why the pilot is on the watchlist: he’s a muslim” You are lucky that it is 2008 if it was 100yrs earlier he would have been put in a camp/starved etc just because of his background. Hell, ask the Japanese about the 1940s. I am NOT saying it’s ok, but we have mellowed out soooo much when it comes to these kind of things (i.e. no pogroms here!)

    For Mikelotus @27
    #1 presumption of innocence is built into our constitution.

    #16 , Poster is correct you are batty.

    #19 If he carried over one L of wine (and not declare) he did smuggle, have you ever flown?

  29. #29 Just as Israeli security in Tel Aviv airport profiles for Muslims, so should we if we are going to do any security in airports. The odds that the next terrorist to try another 9/11 is Muslim is much greater than anything else. Even if most of what the TSA does is a waste, as noted already here, hassling 5 year olds and old ladies is useless when it comes to security. Hassling Muslims might not be worth much either, but its certainly worth much more security wise than worrying about 5 year olds.

    #32 ???

    #33 OK, so what does that have to do with any of this being unconstitutional? Nothing that I nor any court can see so far. General verbiage about what is “built into” the US Constitution means nothing.

  30. @#4 It has little to do with being muslim and more with what your name looks like. If the TSA was scared of Asians then they would be screening people that have the last name ‘Lee’ and anyone they thought looked Asian. They wouldn’t be checking to see if they’re Buddhists. This is simple, good old fashion profiling based on little more than skin color and names. However bad that is, the religious aspect thankfully doesn’t come into it on this issue. The whole religious xenophobia aspect is really more of an issue with the theocratic minded folks and moron rednecks. ‘James Robinson’ wouldn’t be having such a hard time if they were mere religious bigots.

    The issue at hand is simply the human right to dignity without being detained since you share the same last name as some asshole who blew up a grocery 4 years ago. And that’s assuming there was a reason for the name to be there in the first place…

  31. @14 Takuan
    no no Frank (@#6), Michael Chertoff is NOT an idiot. Kip Hawley is an idiot, Michael Chertoff is a dangerous, fascist monster. Remember that when you see his name on the extermination edicts.

    I was wrong, you are right, I stand corrected.

    I can’t stand Michael Jerkoff and he is dangerous.

  32. #24: I am in Europe, my friends are Europeans, and they are treated a hell of a lot better than if they were in America. I’ve lived in both places, I know.

    True, there are many places in Europe where muslims are treated badly, but very few places where it’s as bad as in America. And even if it were so, that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly ok for Americans to treat muslims this way. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    “Frankly, I’ve only seen Americans bend over backwards when they meet Muslims to demonstrate that they are not prejudiced.”

    Yeah, that’s not true.

    #28: s/race/religion/ I only used it in the sense of “we shouldn’t discriminate based on…” and it’s incredibly nit-picky to point that out. You know what I meant.

    #37: You’re probably right, but it’s the same thing really. Intolerance is intolerance. Racial profiling should have died with the poll tax.

  33. given the stories we’re seeing about ignorant zealots like this guy, and powertrip searches, & powertrip denials of entry to the u.s.; and given that for several years now we have had such ‘lists’ as the ‘no-fly’ and ‘terrorist watch’ variety…

    do you think we maybe ought to start some *new* lists? how about the list of people who are ‘too big an @sshole to work in security in any capacity including, but not limited to, airport security, the police force, u.s. customs, and immigration & naturalization services’. ?

    we may also need a ‘robots’-list — a list of people generically unqualified for any position involving the interpretation and/or enforcement of any rules of any kind, ’cause they function completely and only by rote. those guys can become gardeners or typists.

    some names might end up on both lists. i’m not sure i think that’d be problematic in any way.

    of course this is silly. so are the other lists, which are flawed to the point of punishing pretty much all of the *wrong* people, and none of the ‘right’ ones.

  34. Chelvis @5:

    Another thing that happens is that people with very common names are placed on watch lists, ala everyone in America named Richard Reid, and additionally, anyone whose name is an anagram of Richard Reid.

    Anagrams? Rich Reidard? Chair did err; hid direr arc? Dear Rich Rid chid rarer id? Raid Red Rich? I R Direr Chad? That one can’t be much of a problem.

    If they really are examining anagrams, they’re direly stupid. Also, I have nothing to fear unless terrorists start using random phrase generators:

    Barbarian hootenanny displeases hearer.
    Bandana harries proletarians’ honeybees.
    Onshore libertarian hypes seared banana.
    Heartened piranhas seasonably airborne.

    Debonair airborne naphthalene assayers
    ensnared reasonably inebriate pharaohs.

    Halloween Jack @16: While you’re at it, don’t forget that the CLEAR program punches a huge hole in US airport security systems.

  35. The solution to this is very simple.

    Start a letter writing campaign and sign the letters with the names of the spouses of every US senator, representative and well connected (rich) person in the country. Wait for the TSA to add them then wait for the resulting backlash when Michelle Obama has to go triple security and misses her flight for the fifth time.

  36. MIKELOTUS@28: Just because it happens it must be constitutional? Your argument is quite specious.

    Consulting your copy of the Bill of Rights you might find the 4th amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Currently TSAs search people randomly, with no probable cause, or put your name on these lists with no due process of law. Your laptop can be confiscated and all contents copied, without your say so or even notification. Is that unconstitutional enough for you? Ok, then let’s look at the 1st Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Profiling someone based on their religion and reserving special treatment for them violates the first amendment, dude, which is why they won’t admit to how these lists are compiled. Also, the keeping of these lists in secrecy violates your right to address your accuser, (if they are not accusing you of anything, why have the lists?) and they also restrict your right to travel, and in the pilot’s case, even keep his job. Remember life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

    I could go on and on. Civil suits are the arena where unconstitutional laws hopefully get struck down, but only after the rights of the citizenry have been abused and the cases wind their way through the courts. Thankfully, there is the ACLU to take up such cases.

    Here is a related bulletin posted today by the ACLU: http://www.aclu.org/privacy/gen/36491prs20080820.html

  37. Now if you want something amusing….

    If a large group of terrorists deliberately and publicly assumed aliases of popular American names… They could just work down the popularity list.

    Anyone amused by judging by name yet?


  38. phikus, you are so wrong, you have to be under 25 as there is no other explanation for it. the supreme court has already ruled that the searches for air travel are constitutional and wishing it so does not change that. and profiling based on religion does not violate the 1st amendment. the establishment clause has nothing to do with that. racial profiling may violate federal or state civil rights law but it has nothing to do with the first amendment. quite frankly you are completely wrong on every thing you have stated. wishing it so does not make it so. you have any references that say different then post them or admit you are wrong and change your name on here so you won’t have to live with the embarrassment.

  39. @#17 Bardfinn: Everyone knows that’s why they’re on the list, but no one is allowed to say it. The feds can’t admit it, and their lawyer can’t accuse them of it without actual evidence.

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