Another No-Fly List Victim

This person didn't even land in the U.S. His plane flew from Canada to Mexico over U.S. airspace:

Fifteen minutes after the plane left Toronto's Pearson International Airport, the airline provided customs officials in the United States with a list of passengers. Agents ran the list through a national data base and up popped a name matching Mr. Kahil's.

[...]

When the plane landed in Acapulco, the Kahils were ushered into a room for questioning. Mug shots were taken of the couple, along with their sons, Karim and Adam, who are 8 and 6. But it was not until a couple of hours later that the Kahils found out why.

Ms. Kahil and the children returned to Canada later that day and Mr. Kahil was put in a detention centre and his passport was confiscated.

Just another case of mistaken identity.

And here's a story of a four-year-old boy on the watch list.

This program has been a miserable failure in every respect. Not one terrorist caught, ever. (I say this because I believe 100% that if this administration caught anyone through this program, they would be trumpeting it for all to hear.) Thousands of innocents subjected to lengthy and extreme searches every time they fly, prevented from flying, or arrested.

Posted on January 26, 2006 at 3:28 PM • 53 Comments

Comments

DonJanuary 26, 2006 3:56 PM

And possibly most importantly, done so using time and attention that could be spent on productive security.

Frank Ch. EiglerJanuary 26, 2006 4:14 PM

> This program has been a miserable failure in
> every respect. Not one terrorist caught, ever.

That would be the same sort of failure of a bored armed guard in a bank that suffers no bankrobberies. That is, don't neglect the deterrent effect.

jammitJanuary 26, 2006 4:20 PM

Isn't there a part to the law stating anybody 12yrs and younger are exempt? It seems the names on the "list" are pretty ordinary and generic. I wonder how many John Doe's or Hiram Jack's (Hi Jack to his friends) are on the "list". How long will it be before every possible name combination possible will be on the "list"? As usual, the no-fly list has no corrective measure, no breaks. It will only continue to self amplify untill it blows up.

Alun JonesJanuary 26, 2006 4:23 PM

My wife gets searched any time she uses Amex Travel to book the tickets, because they won't let her use her middle name on the ticket. Any ticket booked without her middle name gets her searched. Turns what is claimed to be a security measure into an obvious security blanket.

Erich FinchleyJanuary 26, 2006 4:40 PM

This individual was later shown to be a member (he says unwillingly) of Hamas in Lebanon. So, not altogether a failure.

YetanotherbruceJanuary 26, 2006 5:14 PM

Tracked down a follow up Toronto Star report - if the data in this is true, then the program *IS* a success - an admitted former Hezbollah (not Hamas) member was stopped from flying over the US. How much additional security that gives us, is of course, another matter under question.

http://tinyurl.com/av4wu

um...January 26, 2006 5:37 PM

Okay, I'm confused. So because he's a *former* member of Hezbollah in *Lebanon*, he's a threat to the *United States* because he's flying with his family from Canada to Mexico?

(And if he was pulled off the plane in Acapulco, how was he "stopped from flying over the US"?)

You lost me on the logic of that.

I don't see what was accomplished here at all.

RayJanuary 26, 2006 5:39 PM

So should we prevent members of other political parties who have members that have done bad things from flying?

Why is it a success that some random member of a political party was prevented from flying? While members of this rather far flung party have done some *very* bad things there is no evidence that this person had done any such things or had ever been part of the wing of the party that had done bad things.

Do you *really* want to live in a country where guilt by association is enshrined in law and where your life can be ruined for having political views that differ from the majority?

If he has done anything bad or they think he might make that knowledge public till then this reeks of political persecution.

RayJanuary 26, 2006 5:41 PM

"That would be the same sort of failure of a bored armed guard in a bank that suffers no bankrobberies. That is, don't neglect the deterrent effect."

No. The correct analogy would be a security guard at the bank who randomly detains people for no good reason and holds them for some amount of time.

Do you *really* think that tradeoff is worth it?

LukasJanuary 26, 2006 5:58 PM

There's nothing random about the detainees - they're profiled; which is a horrible security method in itself.

Hell, even a list of names is pointless. Is a terrorist going to use his real name to sneak onto a plane? Is it that hard to get fake ID? Please.

So now we've got the bank security guard IDing everyone who enters, checking their names against a list of potential bank robbers, and detaining people who look like bank robbers.

Gee, there's no way anyone could use a fake name and not look like the profile of a bank robber. /sarcasm

The guard isn't a deterrent. People still rob banks.

At best, the guard is an obstacle and an annoyance to customers. At worst, he's a privacy issue and a false sense of security.

CLJanuary 26, 2006 6:15 PM

Bruce -

This guy Sami Kahil is hardly a "victim." He was a member of Hizbullah earlier in his life, at a time when they were killing Americans on a regular basis. Our screening policies might be "failures" in some ways, but he is hardly the poster child for the cause.

denis biderJanuary 26, 2006 7:13 PM

CL: In a free country, it would be wrong to imprison someone who has not harmed anyone, nor showed any intention to, on the basis of her (perhaps in fact unwilling) political affiliation 20 years ago.

If you're going to arrest and detain people and destroy their holidays (and more) based on so little pretext, you're running a Soviet Union or an Eastern Germany.

In East Germany, the secret service had 150.000 thousand informers and 2 million collaborators on the payroll. It had files on 6 million people - almost half the adult population of East Germany.

One who supports this kind of harshness from the government should just wait a bit and see - soon, you will see how lovely it is to live in an East Germany :)

UnixroninJanuary 26, 2006 7:16 PM

It's only a small step from here to the US asserting its authority to enforce US no-fly lists anywhere in the world, even on flights that never land at a US city and never enter US airspace.

denis biderJanuary 26, 2006 7:18 PM

Oops - correction: that should have said "150.000 informers on the payroll and 2 million collaborators" rather than "150.000 informers and 2 million collaborators on the payroll".

However, it did go so far that there were informants who actually went and married a "subject" and went on living with them for years, all while keeping and reporting a daily account of the suspect's activities...

RichJanuary 26, 2006 7:55 PM

"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"

Essentially the same question is asked several times of prospective new US citizens, throughout the long naturalization process. "or any other totalitarian organization" is usually lumped in.

But that's ok. There are only two democratic parties in the world anyways.

aJanuary 26, 2006 8:08 PM

"This individual was later shown to be a member (he says unwillingly) of Hamas in Lebanon. So, not altogether a failure."

"This guy Sami Kahil is hardly a "victim." He was a member of Hizbullah earlier in his life, at a time when they were killing Americans on a regular basis. Our screening policies might be "failures" in some ways, but he is hardly the poster child for the cause."

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.....

How much money was funnelled from USA to support the IRA (and let's not get into all the others ). You telling me that Gerry Adams is going to be on that no fly list ?


RoyJanuary 26, 2006 9:10 PM

@ Frank Ch. Eigler

"> This program has been a miserable failure in
> every respect. Not one terrorist caught, ever.

That would be the same sort of failure of a bored armed guard
in a bank that suffers no bankrobberies. That is, don't neglect
the deterrent effect."

The no-fly lists, watch lists, and any other enemies lists of Heimatsicherheit Abteilung (oops -- 'Department of Homeland Security'), arose ostensibly to catch terrorists sent by the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of which branch, wing, or arm -- al Qaeda, Hamas, etc -- took credit for, or was blamed for, attacks.

In the last 4 years, if the MB has sent any terrorists into commercial US airline flights, then where did they go? If they were caught, why isn't DHS throwing itself parades? I'm with Kevin Davidson here: we'd all hear about it again, and again, and again -- they just wouldn't shut up about it. So, if there's nary a squeak, it never happened.

If the MB sent agents, but they weren't caught, then they've been able to fly undetected -- a wholesale failure of the system. The innocents get punished, while the guilty get rewarded. The flying operatives -- protected by the listing failures -- are able to study our current systems, protocols, and procedures, up close, taking careful detailed notes.

If the MB has sent no agents, why would anyone presume there was any deterence at work? Given that the rate of false positives would dwarf the rate of true positives -- if the rate of true positives were nonzero -- then there would be no way to tell by looking at the evidence whether deterence was working at all.

MrWhoohooJanuary 27, 2006 1:27 AM

One place I worked there was a guy used to stalk the corridors driving everyone mad by snapping his fingers all the time. When somebody asked him why he did it, he said it kept the elephants away. "But there aren't any elephants for miles!". "Just shows how effective it is".

Arturo QuirantesJanuary 27, 2006 2:07 AM

@ MrWhoohoo,

I heard similar argumentos in an episode of The Simpsons. Maybe it's time to get Homer out of Homeland Security and drag him back to his nuclear power station...

another_bruceJanuary 27, 2006 2:36 AM

i'm surprised mexico went along with this. i'm surprised new zealand, with its reputation for independence from washington, goes along with our spying program. i don't have an answer for this except to eschew flying to wherever you can reach by driving.
@alun jones: i have an answer for that. your wife should politely inform amex travel that she won't pay for the ticket if it doesn't have her middle name on it. you're in trouble when corporations can define your name for you.

AnonymousJanuary 27, 2006 4:30 AM

@ Arturo Quirantes

You hit the bull's eye! It's Homerland Security! Thanx ggggggggggg;-))))))))

Arturo QuirantesJanuary 27, 2006 4:57 AM

@ another_bruce:

I guess they benefit somehow. They let the NSA set up their ears, and they will get some spoils in return. For a non-UKUSA-like country with limited surveillance resources, the idea of getting a piece of the action (even a small one) from the big kids is a tempting bet.

As for New Zealand itself, I recall a book called Secret Power by Nichy Hager, exposing NZ's role in this global alliance back in the 1990s. You can read the first two chapters here: http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/sp/

arlJanuary 27, 2006 7:18 AM

Well something is working somewhere, I just don't know what it is. I am sure that there are a few hundred nut-jobs that would be glad to get onto US soil with an AK and fire a few rounds before being sent to their reward. Or one homicide bomber that could set him/herself off in the line to be searched at the football game.

Profiling is a great way to locate problems, but you have to do it right. In this case if the people involved were "terrorists" they have now been tiped and know that they are being watched. Put two people on a plane from a terror cell. If one gets detained and the other does not then you know that one is unknown to the authorities. The next day he is free to execute the plan.

pigletJanuary 27, 2006 8:05 AM

"Ms. Kahil and the children returned to Canada later that day and Mr. Kahil was put in a detention centre and his passport was confiscated."

This also highlights the abysmal record of Canadian agencies blindly obeying US orders and collaborating in their human rights abuses. Sad.

pigletJanuary 27, 2006 8:12 AM

Sorry, I misread that. It's the Mexicans who detained the Canadian, so shame on the Mexicans obeying Gringo orders.

At least in the case of Maher Arar, there is evidence that Canadian authorities were involved in the deportation of a Canadian to Syria as part of the US government's torture outsourcing program. An inquiry into this incident is still going on.

pigletJanuary 27, 2006 8:24 AM

Here's a follow-up:
http://www.theglobeandmail.ca/servlet/story
/RTGAM.20060111.wxkahil11/BNStory/National/

"Amnesty International and a team of immigration lawyers are helping Mr. Kahil to find out why a name matching his is on the no-fly list of people prohibited from entering the United States."

There's also a very nice comment on the Globe and Mail page: "Funny how times have changed and the first thing people do are to hire a lawyer and sue instead of putting their lives in persceptive and *be grateful for living in North America*. He can still get his name removed from the list by directly going to the authorities without creating such a media circus." Ignorance and hubris are such a good match.

pigletJanuary 27, 2006 8:31 AM

"This individual was later shown to be a member (he says unwillingly) of Hamas in Lebanon. So, not altogether a failure.

Posted by: Erich Finchley at January 26, 2006 04:40 PM"

I didn't find any mention of that in the press coverage. What are you up to?

AnonymousJanuary 27, 2006 9:47 AM

"Funny how times have changed and the first thing people do are to hire a lawyer and sue instead of putting their lives in persceptive and *be grateful for living in North America*. He can still get his name removed from the list by directly going to the authorities without creating such a media circus."

Actually untrue. There is no official way to get off the list, indeed your presence on it is classified. Lawsuits have been the only available tool.


"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"

hmmmm ... I know an old woman who (along with her husband) were persued by the FBI during the 50s and 60s for their communist affiliation. Perhaps I will be added to the list.

derfJanuary 27, 2006 10:03 AM

I'm sure having the TSA feel up old ladies and strip search 4 year olds is having a wonderful deterrent effect. The question is what exactly is being deterred...

AAzureJanuary 27, 2006 10:10 AM

This might even have been against Canadian Law for the airline to give US authorities information as the flight orginiated in Canada.

ZwackJanuary 27, 2006 10:39 AM

"How much money was funnelled from USA to support the IRA (and let's not get into all the others ). You telling me that Gerry Adams is going to be on that no fly list ?"

I was thinking the same thing... Given that the IRA is a terrorist organisation, you would think that Gerry Adams wouldn't be allowed to visit the US... But he is.

I guess it's all a matter of perspective... the Terrorists that don't specificaly target Americans are ok.

I also don't understand what was acheived by detaining someone who flew over the US after the fact. He obviously hadn't crashed the plane into the White House on that trip...

Z.

LygerJanuary 27, 2006 10:59 AM

Someone's going to have to explain to me how a classified "No Fly List" is going to work as a deterrant. After all, if the whole idea behind the List is to keep bad guys from flying into or over the United States, you'd want them to know that they were on the list, so that they wouldn't bother. It seems to me that the real point behind the list is to CATCH people. After all, you now know exactly where they are, where they're going and when they're going to get there. It's then easy to have someone go collect them and ship them off to Gitmo, Bahrain or wherever else you have in mind. And since they won't know they're on the list until you nab them, how can they take precautions? (Not to say that it will ever really work that way, but it seems a more logical purpose, given my limited information.)

It seems there is also an issue with lifetime taint attaching from being a member of an organization. If Mr. Kahil was a member of Hamas or Hezbullah at some earlier point in his life, he's going to be tarred for the rest of his days. This is a common outcome, and one we should work to change. If a candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States is forced into "memory lapses" because of a membership that he held twenty years ago, you know that anyone from the Middle East who ever knew anyone who was a member of a radical group will never be free of them.

CheburashkaJanuary 27, 2006 11:13 AM

Do we have any reason to believe that any of the innocent people hurt by this are nice, likeable people that we care about?

arlJanuary 27, 2006 11:27 AM

"Do we have any reason to believe that any of the innocent people hurt by this are nice, likeable people that we care about?"

There are people who I hate with a passion that I would not want to see on this list. After all, they don't like me either and I don't think such things should be a basis for our mutal government to get involved.

AveryJanuary 27, 2006 11:33 AM

Somewhere, here I think, it has been said that the no fly list is a list of people too dangerous to be let on an air plane, but not so dangerous that we can find any reason to arrest them.

A good system would put a Sky Marshal bullpen at every airport and one or two would be inserted onto any flight where a suspect was flying. It would give nothing away to real terrorists (until a guy stood up and shot them, or tazed them or whatever sky marshals do if a bad guy shows up) and wouldn't screw over innocents.

If the no-fly list is as much of a mess as it seems to be we'd need a small army of them but we're already spending a small army's budget on less effective programs.

Jim HyslopJanuary 27, 2006 12:07 PM

Just in case anyone's wondering, Mr. Kahil is not still rotting in a Mexican jail. He was brought home on a jet chartered by the Canadian government, which stayed out of U.S. airspace.

MikeJanuary 27, 2006 12:08 PM

"Do we have any reason to believe that any of the innocent people hurt by this are nice, likeable people that we care about?"

No. But then, by making that statement you have proven yourself to not be a nice, likeable person who I would care about. So I guess it doesn't matter if you get put on the list, too, right?

NewcomerJanuary 28, 2006 1:38 AM

This is one more example of US disregard for personal privacy and rights. Have you ever read a US tourist visa application form?

AnonymousJanuary 28, 2006 10:37 PM

@arl
They aren't going to use AK47's, they are going to use rifles with silencers. Can you imagine how much trouble a couple of dozen snipers would cause dispersed in various metro areas of the US?

ECMpukeJanuary 29, 2006 5:33 PM

Probability of detection of terrorist>>>0
Probability of false alarm>>>1
Figure of merit=Pd/Pfa >>>0

Cost per incremental increase in FOM>>>infinity.

System: Useless. Worthless. Typical of government.

RichJanuary 30, 2006 1:29 AM

Is "catching a terrorist" an adequate measure of success? What about prevention? Are terrorists less likely to hop on a plane knowing they are on a list... or perhaps they alter their day-to-day activities allowing authorities to obtain more G2 (e.g. the terrorists have an inside source to lookup what names are on the database... the times/means/destination from where they consult this source can be spied upon).

The bottom line is perhaps success should be measured with different metrics.

JackJanuary 30, 2006 3:43 AM

I am still surprised how few Americans object to these kinds of procedures by the Bush Administration! Why not revolt, make some noise! No one wants to be treated like that - you read about these kinds of incidents regularly, but no one is doing anything about it... America, wake up!

RvnPhnxJanuary 30, 2006 8:47 AM

@Jack
You forget something important: most "Americans" (I mean the ones from the USA) have trouble passing a 6th-grade-level reading comprehension exam, much less the equivalent level written expression exam. Remember, a 100 IQ is the average. According to the original Binet intelligence exam, most people aren't predisposed to be doctors and lawers (or politicians, for that matter)--and therefore were routed to education that better suited their needs. Well folks, we've come full circle back to "fully equal, fully lacking" education--so we should expect this kind of moronic policy to be the norm for the next 25-50 years (unless something REALLY drastic happens).
All politics really are local (ask those in Palestine), and if you can't grasp how a global issue could affect you locally you just dismiss it. End of story.

greygeekJanuary 30, 2006 11:09 AM

If this list works by literal name matching and something as trivial as adding a middle name can prevent a person from being "detected", I wonder if a legal name-change would effectively remove a person from the list?

From the outside, this thing looks so crude that even a slightly professional terrorist could probably game the system.

Hmmm. I wonder if you could possibly GAIN anything from gaming this system -- a free upgrade to first class if your name is Gerry Adams, since he represents an "approved" terrorist organization and is therefor a celebrity?

richJanuary 31, 2006 2:22 PM

How to beat the list.
1. Assume you need to get N=4 terrorists onto a plane.
2. Assemble a collection of terrorists greater than 4.
3. While (N<4) send the next terrorist on a plane trip. If they are not flagged, add them to the OK set (N).
4. You now have a set of N=4 terrorists who will not get flagged so you can use them for an attack.

This algorithm is relatively well known, but hadn't yet been posted here.

Many details are missing, e.g. flagged terrorists should take a suicide pill, concentrating on people likely to not be on the list helps keep the collection of step 2 relatively small.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 31, 2006 6:07 PM

"How to beat the list."

It's now even easier than that. TSA is offering a low-cost service designed especially for terrorists: Have all your operatives apply for the Registered Traveller program. Those who get the card are not suspects; those who don't are. Now you know who to send on the mission.

This works even if you're eventual plot has nothing to do with airplanes.

"George Peterson"February 4, 2006 5:12 PM

Two days ago while attempting to check in for a flight I was told I was on the "No-Fly" list... I then proceeded to an E-Ticket kiosk and did it myself. I was on the flight an hour later... how's that for secure?

Bruce SchneierFebruary 5, 2006 9:12 AM

"Two days ago while attempting to check in for a flight I was told I was on the 'No-Fly' list... I then proceeded to an E-Ticket kiosk and did it myself. I was on the flight an hour later... how's that for secure?"

That doesn't sound like a security failure. That sounds like someone told you the wrong thing.

DaveJune 19, 2007 4:04 PM

"It's only a small step from here to the US asserting its authority to enforce US no-fly lists anywhere in the world, even on flights that never land at a US city and never enter US airspace."

** Apparently, Canada uses the US list but I'm not sure why (trying to be nice, pressure from US, who knows), but as of yesterday, we have our own no-fly list, still flagging the wrong people. We had a Canadian flagged while flying between two Canadian cities, using the US list.

James S. Klich IIJuly 23, 2007 9:24 PM

Tracking people by there name is not very efficient. Citizens of the United States could use their Social Security number as a flight Identifier number. This would improve accuracy. The number could be entered into an incrypted database. This would also help in Identifing illegal Immigrants. People outside the United States could be screened by the current name method until a better system is developed. I know some people do not want to use their Social Security number but the current system does not work.

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