And today, too. So they’re keeping a list, but unlike Santa Claus they’re not checking it twice. Or even once. The list is the US government’s terrorist watch list that today — like yesterday and the day before and tomorrow — grew by over 500 names. The terrorists are either being created at record rates or there are an awful lot of terrorists out there. Already the list has three quarters of a million names on it. Maybe yours. Or someone with the same name as yours.
The list is used to check people entering the country at airports and border crossings. But if Leonard Boyle, director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, has anything to do about it, it will be used for more. Like hiring:
Boyle 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.” (USA Today)
Since this list is fast heading toward the one million mark, it seems pretty clear it is another example of Bush administration Security State incompetence. You’d think if it was such a critical tool, they’d want to monitor its effectiveness, if only to improve it and as routine management. It turns out, however, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn’t know how many people are on the list because of duplicates, alternate names and similar issues nor do they even know how big is a subset of the list, the notorious “no fly” list. Nor does Homeland Security keep records on how many times it has been used to deny entry or to detain someone for questioning and then allowed into the country.
Recently I hosted a visiting colleague from Johns Hopkins. He’s a noted public health scholar and scientist and after a very fruitful and pleasant visit he told me he had to get to the airport soon. “Why?” I asked. “Your plane isn’t for another two hours.” “The watch list,” he said. To say I was puzzled was an understatement. This guy is as cleancut as they come, with a good old fashioned AngloSaxon name and appearance. And that’s the problem, it turns out. His Irish last name is the same as the last name of some suspected IRA member and even worse, they have the same birthday. So there’s no hope. He gets snagged for questioning about half the time he flies. Which poses two questions. Is he or his namesake any conceivable threat? If so, what about the times he isn’t taken aside?
There is no way this system works for anything but making the lives of ordinary people more difficult. Whatever you think of the principle (and I confess I don’t think much of it), it is done so incompetently as to negate whatever value it might conceivably have had (and I don’t think it ever had any; do you think a terrorist can’t get in the country because of this list?).
A secret list of names that can be used for all sorts of purposes by all sorts of people is not my idea of where we should be going in this country. If there are truly “enemies of freedom” that “hate our way of life” as Bush, they would be well satisfied.
But the real enemies of our way of life are running the government. And they are on my no-vote-for list.