American Authorities Secretly Give International Travellers Terrorist "Risk" Score

From the Associated Press:

Without notifying the public, federal agents for the past four years have assigned millions of international travelers, including Americans, computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years.

The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

The program's existence was quietly disclosed earlier in November when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, for the first time in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules. Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought this system had been applied only to cargo.

Like all these systems, we are all judged in secret, by a computer algorithm, with no way to see or even challenge our score. Kafka would be proud.

"If this catches one potential terrorist, this is a success," Ahern said.

That's just too idiotic a statement to even rebut.

EDITED TO ADD (12/3): More commentary.

Posted on December 1, 2006 at 12:12 PM • 70 Comments


RealistDecember 1, 2006 12:38 PM

The American government is becoming more repressive than the old style Soviet government they used to rail against...

nzrussDecember 1, 2006 12:41 PM

Attendant: Pork sausages or Spaghetti and Meatballs?
Passenger1: Sausages

Attendant: Pork sausages or Spaghetti and Meatballs?
Passenger2: Sausages

Attendant: Pork sausages or Spaghetti and Meatballs?
Passenger3: Meatballs

....... Some time later.......

Attendant: Pork sausages or Spaghetti and Meatballs?
Passenger n : Sausages
Attendant: Oh, I'm sorry, we are all out, we only have Halal Chicken.
Passenger n: ah no problem, chicken it is.

CIA: Hey, some guy just ate the Halal Chicken. Flag him.

Geoff LaneDecember 1, 2006 12:45 PM

I for one am glad that I am protected from "potential terrorists". But, I have a question. Exactly what will a "potential terrorist" be charged with? I get the feeling it will be something like "Being Arab while flying."

NicDecember 1, 2006 12:55 PM

@Geoff Lane

> I for one am glad that I am protected from "potential terrorists". But, I have a question. Exactly what will a "potential terrorist" be charged with? I get the feeling it will be something like "Being Arab while flying."

I guess this meeans that, in the same vein as DWB, we can add FWA to the list of serious offences in te US.

xdcDecember 1, 2006 12:56 PM

Interesting, I note he didn't say "actual terrorist", only "potential terrorist". If that is all they want, why even bother with the risk assessment? A dice would do just as well.

nzruss (again)December 1, 2006 12:56 PM

>>>"Like all these systems, we are all judged in secret, by a computer algorithm, with no way to see or even challenge our score"

Sounds like they're using the same system used to calculate your car insurance....

AnonymousDecember 1, 2006 1:03 PM

I wonder what effect a vegetarian meal would have.

Especially if you belong to a more 'obscure' religion, a vegetarian meal is probably the easiest way to get something that matches your dietary restrictions (e.g. Rastas who eat I-tal) - no meat to come from the wrong animal or be slaughtered wrong, etc. It's also less likely to consist of rubbery chicken in a bland white sauche, which is why I used to request a vegetarian meal, back when you actually got a free meal.

Now I mostly just pack a lunch, since I can cook better than anything the airline is likely to offer. Boy, that must set off the alarm bells.

Lourens VeenDecember 1, 2006 1:09 PM

Online, many if not most people will fill out forms asking for their personal details with bogus values. How long until this practice is transferred to the real world? If you fly regularly, select a different meal preference each time (if you have no preference yourself). Get a couple different customer cards for each shop and different electronic public transport cards (anonymous or using a false name), and pick one of them at random for each purchase or journey. Heck, apparently getting a false passport is pretty easy too (

At some point, people are going to realise that they're being watched all the time. People don't like that. They'll subvert the system. And then you'll have to throw all of them in gaol. Well, if they weren't all there anyway for illegal file sharing...

jkohenDecember 1, 2006 1:12 PM

Kudos! It must be pretty tough to cook an interesting meal without using enough liquids to trigger a bunch of alarms under current regulations.

AnonymousDecember 1, 2006 1:15 PM

Which laws are we in violation of?

1.3 Why is the information being collected?

Personally identifiable information is collected to ensure that people and cargo entering or
exiting the United States comply with all applicable U.S. laws. Relevant data, including personally
identifiable information, is necessary for CBP to assess effectively and efficiently the risk and/or
threat posed by a person, a conveyance operated by person, or cargo handled by a person,
entering or exiting the country.

RealistDecember 1, 2006 1:21 PM

"I wonder what effect a vegetarian meal would have."

Interesting question... I am not vegetarian, but often order a special / vegetarian meal on longer flights for several reasons -- it is not as filling, is more refreshing, is prepared fresh, is tastier, and special meals usually get served before everyone else's.

Now I'll have to rethink that strategy...

SkateDecember 1, 2006 1:25 PM

"Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought this system had been applied only to cargo."

--For that I think it would work. If the cargo has a meal preference there just might be something fishy going on...

ninoDecember 1, 2006 1:43 PM

I'm not saying I agree with this. But the idea of conducting a behind-the-scenes risk analysis of travelers, and giving them a risk score, seems consistent with Bruce's approach to dealing with identity theft and financial fraud. Instead of stronger authentication of the person, Bruce says that financial fraud can be dealt with by authenticating the transactions. In other words, monitor individual financial transactions and flag those that seem suspicious based on some assigned risk score, then follow up on those transactions. Like the credit card companies do to catch fraud.

If monitoring financial transactions is the preferred way for catching financial fraud, why wouldn't monitoring travelers be the way to go for catching terrorists?

Having said that, I don't like what the government is doing. And while monitoring financial transactions may help to prevent financial fraud, for preventing identity theft I think you need to better authenticate the person who makes a claim of identity.

VickiDecember 1, 2006 1:52 PM

The analogy to monitoring a financial transaction isn't creating a record like this, it's monitoring an individual flight--one-way or round-trip, how it's paid, seating preference, how far in advance the person booked, etc.--to determine whether to search someone's luggage more thoroughly rather than just running it through the X-ray. And then throwing away that information after the flight in question, rather than trying to conclude whether someone is a potential terrorist because they asked for window seats for years and suddenly want the aisle. (More likely, it's a new medical condition.)

jonny sDecember 1, 2006 1:52 PM


"If monitoring financial transactions is the preferred way for catching financial fraud, why wouldn't monitoring travelers be the way to go for catching terrorists?"

Financial transactions usually do not protest when their civil liberties are trampled upon, for whatever reason.

Israel TorresDecember 1, 2006 2:14 PM

Wonderful. It is secret programs like this that have innocent people secretly whisked away never to be heard from again... or is this exactly the desired affect?

Israel Torres

AnonymousDecember 1, 2006 2:15 PM

@nino: If monitoring financial transactions is the preferred way for catching financial fraud, why wouldn't monitoring travelers be the way to go for catching terrorists?

jonny s: Financial transactions usually do not protest when their civil liberties are trampled upon, for whatever reason.

We also know that financial transactions are subject to scoring, and have the right to argue them.

a_LexDecember 1, 2006 2:20 PM

"The American government is becoming more repressive than the old style Soviet government they used to rail against..."

Yep. Once again, I feel so damn happy I live in Moscow. Putin's democracy is so more democratic than Bush democrecy - at least FSB is far too lazy to profile us.


"If monitoring financial transactions is the preferred way for catching financial fraud, why wouldn't monitoring travelers be the way to go for catching terrorists?"

Because humans, even travelers, are not financial transactions.

It seems the crux of the problem here - the American Neocons (whith their Religious Right sidekicks) treat humans the way a normal individual would only treat TCP/IP packets traveling from a WiFi hotspot to the local bank.

gggDecember 1, 2006 2:24 PM

They are trying to identify terrorists' habits using how many data points? Maybe 30? 19 people on 9/11, and maybe another 11 incidents from the past? Are 30 data points sufficient to predict the behavior of billions of people? Hopefully the rate of false positives will make the system absolutely useless.

JiminyDecember 1, 2006 2:34 PM

The real problem here, my friends, is not the fact that they are using a non-robust set of determinors or a small data set, or even if Uncle Sam is just creeping up to the whole thoughtcrime paradigm.

The problem remains that our law enforcement groups already had all the data they needed, already had the assets and resources to investigate and bring low the bringer of terror. They didn't need extra wiretaps, predator drones, enemy-combatant-declaration priviledges or any else of the past half-decade of nonsense.

They had it all, but were too busy grousing and fighting for turf and didn't bother to communicate with each other.

That's it.

The 9-11 commission identified this. Where is the action to solve this?

Rather than breaking down the walls of obfuscation put up to protect budget and jurisdiction, instead we build a Biodome of homeland security to further insulate the groups from needed communication and add an extra layer of complexity to the problem...

-ac-December 1, 2006 2:35 PM

Do you see evidence of the humans you work with in your spheres of interest/influence getting dumber by the week? From web sites (try using vs. and you realize their lack of re-direct breaks all the https if you don't www) to interfaces to security polices, I see things going bad to worse.

Back to the subject, the casualty of these games is trust. Not trust of the citizen, but trust of authority altogether.

Who is organizing an effort to get smart, competent and ethical human beings into positions of authority in government infosec?

Prisoner #2347December 1, 2006 2:37 PM

@ Todd

That would be the Fourth; Fifth; and Sixth amendments; Article 1, Section 8; et. al.

Why does the price of _YOUR_ civil liberties come so cheap? You are willing to throw them away for "security" that serves only to give you a feeling of security while actually making you _LESS_ safe.

It boggles me to see how fear and panic have warped your thinking to the point where you actually believe that giving up your own freedoms (which were secured through blood, sweat and lives of others) without a peep is the right thing to do.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, you implicitly trust your government to put your well-being first when 2,000+ years of historical precedent have shown this to be nothing short of fantasy. With any luck, the 'Volkssicherheitsministerium' will leave you be while the rest go off to the ovens, eh? ;)

Carlo GrazianiDecember 1, 2006 2:46 PM


Of course, the false-positive rate due to the small training set and vague pattern definition will make the system useless. That is unfortunately irrelevant to the question of whether it will be used.

The classic of useless government security-screening systems is the polygraph. For loyalty screening (as opposed to investigation of specific crime) it is useless -- to get the false-positive rate down to a manageable level, the sensitivity (true positive rate) has to be set near zero. No spy against the U.S. has ever been caught by a polygraph screening. The government knows this. There's a famous 400-page National Academy of Sciences study that documents the defects of polygraphing. Does this stop them from using polygraphs for loyalty screening? No. The securocrats have faith in polygraphs, and science can't shake faith.

Data mining of call records for terrorist patterns is no different. The (documented) false-positive rate is huge, to the point that the FBI stopped following up NSA-generated leads, since they were invariably crap. But the NSA believes, and the Administration believes the NSA. So we are effectively administered a polygraph by the government every time we make a long-distance call, because of the techno-magical faith of the securocracy.

These guys have a history of investing in failure, and calling it success. I feel completely certain that ATS will turn out to be another success, in this sense.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 1, 2006 3:07 PM

@ Jiminy

Exactly right. Couldn't have said it any better.

These secret initiatives and draconian reductions in freedom are driven by an agenda that has yet to show what it has to do with protecting Americans from terrorism or even harm. With a vague depiction of fear, based on a vague description of risk, you can justify anything. But that is the worst kind of security -- known to cause interference and harm, with no known connection to any purpose or good. Add in a selfish and historically disasterous spoils system (appointments based on loyalty, not competance) to the mix and you end up with the wrong people getting the wrong tools for the wrong reasons, wrongly accusing others of wrongdoing that no one can understand.

Calling Josef K...

Stephan SamuelDecember 1, 2006 3:13 PM

It bothers me that the government seems to think the best way to catch people is when they travel. They spend so much money on trying to catch people on planes (I suspect that competent terrorists won't try to use airplanes as weapons again soon, as Bruce has suggested), which leads me to believe that there are hundreds or thousands of competent terrorists running around our country, knowing not to fly.

You can still buy a car for around a thousand dollars cash, although if you're a terrorist, why not just steal or take up a car company on their 0% APR offer? We worry about Mexican immigrants flooding Texas, but who's to say one out of ten of them isn't Abdul Shareef with fake credentials that say Manuel Gonzales? Buy a car in El Paso, and you're $2.17 a gallon from anywhere in the US. That's not even considering that not all terrorists are arabs, and that any terrorist may soon learn of the global trend of offshoring.

There's a reason our Founding Fathers specified that you must be able to travel the country without checkpoints and papers. The governments' putting the checkpoints at airports is a cheap shot, and a cop-out for not tackling the real problem, which is fighting terrorism in the USA.

I hope the Federal Register has many other announcements that I didn't hear about that will help us find terrorists wherever they are. I have faith in my government, and I'd love to keep it that way.

JiminyDecember 1, 2006 3:16 PM

Even in the system where we have an enormous amount of federal employees who strive to be honest, hardworking, competent at their important jobs, the support system is so deeply flawed that it constantly ruins this noble spirit in the face of the almighty Procedure or red tape.

Just goes to show you that the only government system that works is tribal or small-town.

Once you get past the normal human relationship maximum where you can't remember each person as an individual, the system of community breaks down.

I see it expressed as prejudice, nationalism, groupthink, and all the other -isms that have held back human progress through the ages.

TurtleDecember 1, 2006 3:17 PM

@ nzruss

Interesting comparison of this system to insurance ranking. I wonder whether airline companies have yet thought to use it to charge higher rates to people suspected to be "potential terrorists"... with the huge discrepancies in airfare that people already pay, would anyone even notice? ;)

BrianDecember 1, 2006 3:37 PM

Question: which creeps you out more?

a) an automated system looking at a bunch of information the airline has gathered and deciding whether you need additional screening or not.

b) security officers interrogating you before each flight, looking to see who seems nervous.

It sounds like the US is using the former. El Al is using the latter.

I'm of the opinion that we need to be able to choose "None of the above". But it is politically difficult to be seen doing nothing about the problem. The public is very concious of airline security, and so the government wants to look busy. It may be a poor security investment, but it is a very good political investment.

Richard BraakmanDecember 1, 2006 3:37 PM

Well... it *would* make sense to charge people for cost of extra screening they incur by being high-risk...

*ducks and runs away*

kvenlanderDecember 1, 2006 3:44 PM

"Just goes to show you that the only government system that works is tribal or small-town."

Yeah right. Tribal govenments handle stuff like public roads, schools, rule of law, currencies, weight and measures and public health so amazingly well.

You want to know what glibertarian tribal small towns without national governments look like? Look to Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq.

And just to stay on topic: I think I'm going to grow a beard and start ordering halal meals on planes. Just because.

AnonymousDecember 1, 2006 4:04 PM

Magical thinking at its best. Er, I mean worst.

quincunx should have a field day with this.

jon liveseyDecember 1, 2006 4:35 PM

"Now I mostly just pack a lunch"

Excuse me? They actually let you carry a home cooked meal onto the plane, but not liquids?

KevinDecember 1, 2006 4:51 PM

So how is this different from fraud protection?
First and foremost: From a sheer data-mining problem definition perspective, the government's program is at an insurmonountable disadvantage. Credit Card companies know what fraudulent transactions look like, based on a rich repository with thousands of examples of actual fraudulent transactions; and they know what legitimate transactions look like based on billions of cases of legitimate transations. The government has no *clue* what actual terrorist transactions look like - it can only guess at what they *might* look like and write software to find these. Thus, the government's error rates (both false positives and false negatives) will be substantially greater.

Secondly: The cost of false positives (a phone call) and false negatives (a few thousand dollars of fraudulent activity) for credit card companies is cheap; the cost of a false positive for the government is potentially enormous ("U.S. Will Pay $2 Million to Lawyer Wrongly Jailed - New York Times" and the cost of false negatives is virtually immeasurable (9/11).

Third: Credit Card companies are working with information that clients have knowingly handed over to them. When I open a credit card account, I know that the cc company will have access to my credit history (hell, they better, they're lending me money!). But I know I'll never receive a call from my credit card company saying "Mr. Smith, we noticed a charge occured on your CC at 2:30 p.m. at Walmart, but our surveilance cameras indicated you were at home all afternoon". With the government's program, all data collected is done so without consent, awareness, or limitations. Privacy issues abound!

Anyone want to add to the list?

RealistDecember 1, 2006 4:58 PM

"Yep. Once again, I feel so damn happy I live in Moscow. Putin's democracy is so more democratic than Bush democrecy - at least FSB is far too lazy to profile us."

True you aren't there - yet. But there certainly have been a lot of measures over the last 5 years that are charging headlomg into that direction (have you forgotten about the "neighborhood watch" were Bush wanted delivery people, postal worker, etc., to report on people on their rounds?). And these are just the programs you KNOW about.

None of these programs address the root causes of terrorism, etc. They only end up controlling the general law abiding populous.

And if ANY of these programs worked even in the slightest, there should have also been a dramatic reduction in drug smuggling into the US, as the measures would have also caught much of this activity.

dragonfrogDecember 1, 2006 5:19 PM

@ jon livesey

I'm the lunch-packing anonymous above. And no, I haven't had any trouble bringing my meals on. It's not like I bring terrorist foods - everyone knows soup is the food of desperate criminals.

I recall from an earlier post here, something about a lady having her (frozen) tomato sauce confiscated due to its impending liquidity. If she had had the foresight to mix that sauce with an absorbent solid food, such as risotto, the terroristic potential of the sauce could have been mitigated.

Similarly, while vinegar & oil in little bottles are dangerous binary explosive precursor materials, it is obvious that vinegar & oil applied to a salad are clearly an inocuous freedom-loving dressing.

I think the guards know quite well the rules don't make sense. Or maybe that's just up here in Canada...

Nick LancasterDecember 1, 2006 5:39 PM

Thinking that there's some magic equation through which one can say, "This passenger is a potential terrorist," is ridiculous.

For example, it would make sense for a potential terrorist to take an aisle seat. But taller people often prefer aisle seats, and adults with children. So do we say, "All passengers who are shorter than x, and are not travelling with children are potential terrorists?"

It would seem to me that most criteria (like choosing an aisle seat) have exceptions, and are thus useless. (A tall terrorist, for example. What other criteria would be used? He flew in from Jordan? He's Arab? Muslim?)

Naturally, any demands to know the criteria will be met with the counter, "Oh, if we told you that, it would give information to the terrorists."

Prisoner #2347December 1, 2006 6:04 PM

@Brian: b) security officers interrogating you before each flight, looking to see who seems nervous.

El Al can use this technique because their system is miniscule compared to the use (their main--only--hub is Tel Aviv, compared to our Houston, Dallas x2, LA, Atlanta, New York x2, Chicago, Charlotte, etc).

Imagine what would happen if the cabin doors were unopenable during flight and everyone accepted the fact that flying is pretty safe, compared to driving (+40,000 deaths yearly), even with the "threat" of terrorism.

Then maybe we can get rid of the stupid "id checks," "shoe removal," "no liquid" policies and learn to not be afraid.

gfujimoriDecember 1, 2006 7:58 PM

I'm becoming convinced that we need to setup an open project dedicated to subverting this stuff. We need to stuff the no-fly list so full of names that it takes hours just to check through. Maybe then, people will reject these measures for the nonsense that they are.

We need to have volunteers taking cheap flights and causing issues at several checkpoints each weekend so that the various "people jams" make the news. Maybe then they'll give up on these convenience-based security measures.

We need to make up hand-outs that inform travellers of the useless activities implemented in the name of security so that people get aggressive just waiting in line to waste billions of tax dollars at the airports.

The authorities are so busy bumbling around making sure people don't bring shampoo on airplanes and take off their shoes instead of gathering real intel on terrorist acitvities. The current super-bureaucracy reads about world security issues (like the North Korean missle launch) in the news just like the average joe. It's frightening to think that the US gov doesn't have any clue what Putin's FSB or North Korea's gov are doing at any one time. This is absolutely absurd and until they understand that good old-fashioned human intelligence gathering is the way to get ahead, they are doomed to failure.

HeksinkiDecember 1, 2006 8:25 PM

Is this the same program as this:
New U.S. Customs Database on Trucks and Travellers -- a blog post earlier in November?

Davi OttenheimerDecember 1, 2006 8:31 PM

"There's a reason our Founding Fathers specified that you must be able to travel the country without checkpoints and papers. "

Well, yeah, because they hated how the occupying British soldiers actively prevented people from trying to gain freedom (organize independence from tyranny)...

I'm a little fuzzy on the dates but sometime around the Boston Tea Party Benjamin Franklin was working to secure control of postal routes to help information flow in the face of the crown's search/seizure policies. I guess he figured that an official transport system was easier to protect and better than exposing random people to the risk of being detained on conspiracy charges.

Incidentally, back to modern times, I haven't seen much ado about the ICE raids, but they seem to be going on all the time. Someone just told me the recent story of a Georgia town that "disappeared" one night. Basically some plain-clothes folks show up in the early hours before daylight, knock on doors and say "police" to gain entry to people's homes, then demand papers from everyone. Anyone who can't comply immediately with the ICE interpretation of the law is carted away and flown out of the country within 24 hours.

"In places like Stillmore, raids and crackdowns have uncorked a phenomenon for those left behind: a sense of moral confusion about mass roundups and midnight raids."

AndrewDecember 1, 2006 9:09 PM

@gfujimori "I'm becoming convinced that we need to setup an open project dedicated to subverting this stuff."

In this brave new world, you _are_ a terrorist. You are conspiring to thwart the will of the state. Learn counter-interrogation skills now. You will need them.

@ jonny s "Which of your civil liberties are trampled upon by this?"

All of them. The right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion.

The key word is "unreasonable." I have no problem with a cop pulling me over for cause, or showing ID to fly, or searches of personal effects for the common safety. In fact I think I have a broader range of tolerance than most people.

What is unreasonable and downright anti-@#^!-American, is the pseudo-random and discriminatory application of government intrusion. Picking on a guy wearing a turban (Sikh), or eating a veggie-meal (hippie), or who paid for his flight with cash (Libertarian) . . . because we all know that Siks and hippies and Libertarians are terrorists.

In fact, they are NOT terrorists. They are, however, DIFFERENT. That seems to be enough to justify the harassment in some people's minds. If we let that stand, we lose an essential part of what it is to be American. The freedom to BE different.

JungsonnDecember 2, 2006 7:41 AM

"If this catches one potential terrorist, this is a success," Ahern said.


That could be anyone then, who barkes a little at that facist government.

I wonder what happens when the system detects a likely terrorist, will the scanners automaticly shoot them down? Oh, that would be the next step i guess...

a_LexDecember 2, 2006 9:00 AM


I am a Russian citizen, so pesky Bush, insane ReligRight, Neighbourwatch, KGB-style no-such-agencies, neocons and security-through-insanity stuff, are a TV show for me.

A really scary TV show.

I can only hope that "security-through-insanity" and "religious-insanity" will not become seriously effective political moves here, in the vast cold city of Moscow.

a_LexDecember 2, 2006 9:10 AM


"I wonder what happens when the system detects a likely terrorist, will the scanners automaticly shoot them down? Oh, that would be the next step i guess..."

Well, i guess the next step in imroving airline surity would be a Hanibal Lecter style transportation system for the pasengers. Take a look... ( )

BTW, I am going to patent this system ASAP!
Anyone, can you be so kind and tell me where should I apply for an international patent ?
That thing is sure to make me rich!

Stefan WagnerDecember 2, 2006 11:33 AM

"... what kind of meal they ordered."

They record what meal you order, but not whether you ate it?
"Order some pork" isn't prohibited by any funamental community - except vegetarians, is it?

a_LexDecember 2, 2006 5:04 PM

"What list do they put you on if you order the squid?"

They put you in a list named Bruce Schneier! =)))

PoliticsAreAScamDecember 3, 2006 6:24 PM

They aren't doing this to protect you from terrorism or to find any terrorists. They are doing this to harass YOU. There is no terrorist threat against us. That's just being used to scare us into submission. We the people are the enemy and I think Bush Co is making that loud and clear. The war is against us.

chkDecember 4, 2006 3:07 AM

The more I read topics like these, the more I become a potential terrorist.

Implications: governments do cause people to become terrorists. They must be attacked and destroyed. Will the US army please do it's job (in Washington, London, ...)?

AtlasDecember 4, 2006 4:29 AM

@ Richard Braakman:
That's funny. Um, yeah, I guess that means that people who are claustrophobic, afraid of heights, under a great deal of stress, suffering from a latent medical condition (!!) or just very nervous about flying because everybody keeps telling them it's so dangerous to fly because there might be a (potential) terrorist on board or security might erroneously flag them as being a (potential) terrorist would probably need to take out a mortgage to pay for their flight from now on. After all, those people are quite prone to displaying abnormal or nervous behaviour on a flight (or maybe even have a panic attack), thus making the other passengers nervous and being high-risk... :-)

supersnailDecember 4, 2006 6:55 AM

The technoligy is so seductive! You can see how the buericrats and politicos were tempted by this.

But consider ignoring the order a Halal meal having an Arabic name type stuff.
You could have a set of rules looking for someone whos never flown before suddendly does a budget retrun flight to Syria and then is suddenly hiring cars and booking business class one way flights -- sounds suspicious, or, most likely a grad student with Syrian relatives who took the oppertunity to visit distant relatives before starting work in a consultancy firm which will he knows will take up all his time until he can make partner?

I personally am reluctant to visit the US these days because my fight patterns are like nobody elses that I know (mix of budget airlines and scheduled business class, 14 wildly different destinations last year, lots of one way journeys...) , any have decent search alogotithm is bound to flag me!

accDecember 4, 2006 7:15 AM

CBS 60 Minutes about No-fly list


On the list is Francois Genoud, who was a Nazi sympathizer and financier of Arab terrorism. Been dead for ten years.

The Robert Johnson meant to be on the No Fly List would seem to be the known alias of a 62-year-old black man who was convicted of plotting to bomb a Hindu temple and a movie theatre in Toronto. After serving 12 years, he was deported to Trinidad. But the airlines ticket agents don’t have any of that information on their computer screens. They just have the name, not even a date of birth.

60 Minutes found 12 of Robert Johnsons and brought them to New York for an interview. All said they have trouble getting on airplanes.

C GomezDecember 4, 2006 8:06 AM

While I often post here about how some comments are alarmist or rely on slippery slope logic, to me there is no question the no-fly lists and terror scores are utter failures of government, logic, and security.

Even if you look at this score as an exercise in determining who is a potential terrorist, it seems logical that (based on 9/11's plot) that the more someone flys one-way, with cash, and on short notice, the less potential they have to be a terrorist. It seems far more likely that someone flying less often should have a higher score.

Still, it doesn't matter. I don't see how any demonstrable technique can be used on the flying public, who aren't criminals. The score is completely worthless and won't catch one terrorist.

The person defending it is a bureaucrat. They have a life of having nothing valuable to do, getting paid for it, and being encouraged to spend every dime in a budget or risk losing it. The backwards reward system in place in most governments is rewarded by voters, who don't vote on important issues like budgeting and fairness. Instead they vote on handouts. Am I going ot get more handouts from you? You got my vote! You get what you put into the system, and most people just don't care as long as they get something for free, nevermind the ever escalating tax burden.

wilburnDecember 4, 2006 11:11 AM

What's truly maddening is that when the next attack eventually occurs, we'll be saying "See, it doesn't work!" and they'll be saying "See, we didn't go far enough!" That's why I share Bruce's pessimism that there we're facing an nearly impossible uphill battle.

subDecember 4, 2006 2:10 PM

This appears to be the government's version of DRM thinking. Everyone is a criminal and should be treated as such.

I wonder how successful a pirate-like strategy for dealing with the You Ass government would work. Find a nice, empty stretch of border and hop your plane in Mexico or Canada.

Jeremy BraytonDecember 4, 2006 2:31 PM

"We need to have volunteers taking cheap flights and causing issues at several checkpoints each weekend so that the various "people jams" make the news. Maybe then they'll give up on these convenience-based security measures."

Care to go first? There's reasonable evidence to suggest anyone who does that will be shot. I'm all for circumventing BS like this, but I'm not for getting a cap in my ass because of some trigger-happy yay-hoo. Funny thing is, out of all the people to get shot not one of them was an actual terrorist. They must've had potential?

bzelbobDecember 4, 2006 9:15 PM

The intense level of secrecy surrounding most security-related activities of our government has nothing to do with "National Security" and absolutely everything to do with hiding the idiotic, laughable and sometimes insane policies they come up with. (That and job security.)

Tracking passenger meals. No making "bomb jokes" at airports. Papers for every citizen. Random checkpoints. "Can I see your papers?". The PATRIOT(haha) act. Refusing to release numerous 9/11 pentagon tapes. NSA call scanning and warantless wiretaps. National security letters. Enhanced X-ray scanning. No fly lists. National ID Cards. (...list goes on for page after page after page....)

The issue of national security has become a government wet dream. Unlimited power and the ability to stifle the dissent of your own citizens while at the same time giving you license to do the dumbest most absolutely crazy things.

The terrorists are indeed here among us. They are the ones taking away our freedom and our money and giving us unlimited national insecurity and national idiocy.

"A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government." – Thomas Jefferson (1801)

RobDecember 7, 2006 12:33 PM

I think terrorism can never be stopped totally. Like this people just get frightened more and i doubt this catches substantially more terrorists

johnJuly 7, 2007 6:23 PM

It sickens me that the american government is able to commit acts of
terrorism all over the world on a daily basis and yet very seldom; if ever are
they called terrorists. Since 1946 the
american government has either dropped
bombs or fired missiles on 23 nations
butchering between twelve and fifteen
million people. They have assassinated
or have attempted to assassinate dozens
of foriegn politicians. The american
government has contaminated huge
sections of Vietnam and other nations with deadly chemical spraying and they
have used and are still using depleted
uranium in Iraq.
When Meddling Albright was interviewed on Sixty Minutes in 1996
Lesley Stall asked her if she thought that
the blockade of humanitarian goods to Iraq was really worth the death of half
a million iraqi children. Albright answered
"It's a tough call Lesley, but yes we think that the price is worth it". Maybe she should change her name to Madelaine
We are still recieving news about the
thousands of americans[and others] that
died on September 11,2001. How many
more innocent Iraqi babies,that have never harmed any american citizens will
have to sacrifice thier lives simply to
preserve this perveted and sickening
concept of American freedom and so-called democracy?

posted by

AnonymousFebruary 11, 2008 4:34 PM

Welcome to the USSS! Is ANYONE doing their jobs up there? Perpetuating illusions of safety and security are VERY lucrative businesses these days! Too bad we can't address and confront the lack of professional integrity (and personal integrity) so rampantly failing in our justice systems. Who IS addressing and confronting "Internal" terrorism with corruption, malfeasance, misfeasance and ineptitude being so rampant in our country, especially corruption coming from attorneys and other "legal entities" who cover up crimes in their departments?... And worse, ALLOW it to continue!!! I have personally been victimized worse by these aspects of "terrorism, FAR MORE than any "foreign terrorist" has done to me, and I have traveled the world many times, totally alone as a beautiful blond single totally vulnerable...I am more vulnerable to terrorism in my own government!!! PLEASE do NOT ignore the pleas of ANY US CITIZEN turning in local corruption! You would be VERY surprised of what you would find...and YOU THINK you have an inside on intel and power controls?!!! Try living on the inside of major corruption in CA and HI!!! You want security in this country? Tie up the corruption in this nation!!!

AnonymousFebruary 11, 2008 4:53 PM

As long as attorneys keep defending habitual criminals that have more rights than law-abiding citizens, there IS no security in this country!!! As long as public, corporate and political/financial corruption continues to be allowed and people are hurt by it, there WILL BE NO SECURITY IN THIS COUNTRY!

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