Security Theatre Update

Via commentor Steve Crickmore, I belatedly found out how Rahinah Ibrahim ended up on the dreaded No-Fly List. From David Kravetz, on February 6th, at Wired:

The government contested a former Stanford University student’s assertion that she was wrongly placed on a no-fly list for seven years in court despite knowing an FBI official put her on the list by mistake because he checked the “wrong boxes” on a form, a federal judge wrote today.

The agent, Kevin Kelley, based in San Jose, misunderstood the directions on the form and “erroneously nominated” Rahinah Ibrahim to the list in 2004, the judge wrote…

Much of the federal court trial, in which the woman sought only to clear her name, was conducted in secret after U.S. officials repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege and sought to have the case dismissed.

Attorneys working pro bono spent as much as $300,000 litigating the case and $3.8 million in attorney’s fees…

Bolding is mine. My original guess was that Rahinah Ibrahim might’ve been flagged by “a buggy program or an overzealous technician” — should’ve gone with Mr. Pierce’s formulation about “our all-too-human yet curiously error-prone security guardians”

Of course, to look on the bright side, it only took ten years and four million dollars to successfully clear this first case, so AMERICA FVCK YEAH!

33 replies
  1. 1
    cathyx says:

    One down, a few thousand to go.

  2. 2
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Franz Kafka was an optimist.

  3. 3
    kindness says:

    I’ll give dubya’s Administration credit for scaring the piss out of everyone and then using that as a pretext to gut what we stood for as a country. And ‘the patriots’ among us demanded dubya’s people do so & didn’t want to be told what they did.

    I wasn’t one of ’em but that’s what happened.

  4. 4
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Thank God her name wasn’t Buttle Tuttle.

  5. 5
    cathyx says:

    Security theater is exactly what it is. Adam Savage, from Myth Busters bust the myth that TSA is anything but a security theater.
    We take our shoes off, we take off everything that will set off the metal detectors, we get a full body scan, we put every liquid and lotion in a 3oz bottle, our carryon gets rechecked at the gate in case we are friends with anyone who works at the airport and could sneak in illegal things on board, we get swabbed for traces of whatever, and in reality, it’s all for show.

  6. 6
    WereBear says:

    @Davis X. Machina: I see what you did there.

  7. 7
    Pogonip says:

    This whole security theatre thing just shaves the cat’s ass. My agency has reached the point where it is actually afraid of itself. If you open a document, a message pops up about how most features have been disabled because the document came from a “potentially unsafe” source–another government site! It’s insane.

  8. 8
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @WereBear: Aristotle was right, just backwards. Life imitates art.

  9. 9
    Pogonip says:

    That reminds me. Did John ever find a solution to Steve’s embarrassing dingleberry problem? For that matter, did Steve ever find a solution to John’s… Er. Never mind.

  10. 10
    Amir Khalid says:

    Mind you, that US$4.1 million was for Professor Rahinah’s legal costs. How much did the US government spend defending the lawsuit, which came about because of Special Agent Kelly’s clerical error, and what about the court costs? The American taxpayer is out of pocket for the latter two. (That’s leaving aside little stuff like the cost of her daughter’s ticket for the plane trip to the US, to testify for Prof Rahinah, that DHS stopped her from taking.)

  11. 11
    The Thin Black Duke says:

    @Pogonip: And whatever happened to the mustard?

  12. 12
    James E. Powell says:

    Why does the government need to keep the no-fly list secret? If some one is on it, why not tell them and the world, “Hey everybody! This here fella is a terrist!” What would be the harm?

  13. 13
    Pogonip says:

    @The Thin Black Duke: Millions have gone to their reward with that question left unanswered. This must not stand! I suggest we spread a rumor that the president absconded with the mustard so the Republicans will move heaven and earth to find it. Only then may we rest easy, knowing where the mustard is. Remember–if we don’t find that mustard, the terrorists win!

  14. 14
    Baud says:

    No fly list should have been trashed with the color coded terror alert. But unless the TSA is lying, this isn’t just security theater:

    1,813 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging nearly five firearms per day. Of those, 1,477 (81%) were loaded. Firearms were intercepted at a total of 205 airports with Atlanta (ATL) on top of the list for the most firearms intercepted (111) in 2013.

    There was a 16.5% increase (257) in firearm discoveries from last year’s total of 1,556.

  15. 15
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @cathyx: Guess what, peeps? You too, can be randomly selected for TSA Pre-Check!

  16. 16
    Pogonip says:

    @cathyx: This is why I refuse to fly. Anyone doing a full scan of my body had better either want to have kids with me or have M.D. after their name.

    I’m serious. I will not tolerate these crazy procedures. I don’t apply for jobs that involve travel and in my personal life, if I can’t get there without a plane, I don’t go.

  17. 17
    Hobbes says:

    I think the thing to highlight wouldn’t be that a person was put on the list by mistake but that the government defended having her on the list despite knowing it was a mistake.

  18. 18
    cathyx says:

    @Howard Beale IV: And I was. I was irritated to no end. I had carry on luggage, went through the scan of my luggage like everyone else to get to my gate, and at the gate had to be ‘randomly’ checked again. That’s when I learned that I could be friends with a person who works at the airport who could potentially sneak my luggage in with explosives, or whatever. What a joke. I’m still fuming over it.

  19. 19
    Belafon says:

    The ultimate test for any person in any leadership position should be the “I fucked up” test. It should be like the Kobayashi Maru, but you cannot pass it until you can honestly admit you screwed it up.

  20. 20
    Pogonip says:

    @The Thin Black Duke: P.S. did you base your name on Duke Ellington? Even though I’m only 54, I like that generation’s music.

  21. 21
    Amir Khalid says:

    @James E. Powell:
    You might see a fairly big class-action suit with many thousands of plaintiffs, or lots (and lots) of suits filed by single plaintiffs, who believe they don’t belong on the list. Which the US government might not be keen on facing.

    But you’re right. Anyone whose name is on the list would find out just by trying to board a plane, not necessarily to the US. So secrecy would seem pointless.

  22. 22
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    They can never, ever, admit error. To do so would to put into question every last thing they’ve done, do, or will do.

  23. 23
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Seems to be some David Bowie influence in there, too.

  24. 24
    IowaOldLady says:

    I have a friend who’s on the no-fly list. She can’t ask to get off because no one, including her, is supposed to know she’s on. But obviously she knows because she can’t fly. lt’s very Kafta-esque.

  25. 25
    Pogonip says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing…

    It makes pretty bland custard, when you ain’t got no mustard…Doo wop Doo wop Doo wop Doo wop…

  26. 26
    The Thin Black Duke says:

    @Pogonip: No, actually, but thanks for the compliment. I am, however, a big David Bowie fan.

  27. 27
    The Thin Black Duke says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Ah. I can see I won’t be snatching the pebble from your hand anytime soon, sensei.

  28. 28
    West of the Cascades says:

    @Amir Khalid: it’s not entirely clear from the opinion, but the claim was for a constitutional violation (of her due process rights), and I think that means that it’s likely the government will be on the hook for her attorney fees as well (which she didn’t have to pay, because her attorneys handled the case pro bono, but which they will recover very deservedly from the federal government).

  29. 29
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    It was a complete UI fail: “Check the box to NOT add this person to this watch list”.

    Bad design fucks up lives. Bad design and institutional stubborn bullshit really fucks up lives.

  30. 30
    Amir Khalid says:

    @James E. Powell:
    I re-read that BJ thread from last month. Cervantes at comment #36 provides links to where you can search the no-fly list for your name, so I guess it isn’t a secret list after all.

  31. 31
    Ben says:

    @Davis X. Machina:
    Exactly my first thought!

  32. 32
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    …U.S. officials repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege and sought to have the case dismissed.

    EVERY SINGLE TIME where SSP has been used, and the basis for the SSP has come out, it has turned out to be completely bogus. EVERY TIME.

    Really, it’s long past time that judicial notice was taken, and any attempt to invoke SSP was met with derisive laughter and “Okay! Government automatically LOSES”.

    SSP is not in the constitution, it’s not in federal law, it’s bogus from top to bottom.

  33. 33
    CarolDuhart2 says:

    Does anyone really think a no-fly list really helps? The September 11 hijackers were here legally in the United States and were even taking flying lessons. Anyone who really wants to hijack a plane isn’t going to use their real name in any event. Not to mention insiders locals and what not.

    This is reason #1001 why I hope we expand rail. Once going across or even through the country isn’t mostly dependent on airplanes, then I think we will stop being so paranoid.

    BTW, is there even a function that updates such a list? Probably not. I bet it resembles that infamous Florida list of purged, with names similar to certain names, names of dead/arrested/otherwise missing people still on it. Some poor kid who wasn’t even alive during September 11th and has never even left the States gets on it because of a similar name.

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