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July 16, 2008
Congratulations to our Millionth Terrorist!
The U.S terrorist watch list has hit one million names. I sure hope we're giving our millionth terrorist a prize of some sort.
Who knew that a million people are terrorists. Why, there are only twice as many burglars in the U.S. And fifteen times more terrorists than arsonists.
Is this idiotic, or what?
Some people are saying fix it, but there seems to be no motivation to do so. I'm sure the career incentives aren't aligned that way. You probably get promoted by putting people on the list. But taking someone off the list...if you're wrong, no matter how remote that possibility is, you can probably lose your career. This is why in civilized societies we have a judicial system, to be an impartial arbiter between law enforcement and the accused. But that system doesn't apply here.
Kafka would be proud.
EDITED TO ADD (7/16): More information:
There are only 400,000 on it, and 95 percent are not U.S. "persons." (Persons = citizens plus others with a legal right to be in the U.S.)
The “million” number refers to records. The difference is a result of listing several different aliases or spellings for a suspected terrorist.
"That is not the same as 1 million names or 1 million individuals," Mr. Kolton said. "It’s a little bit frustrating because I feel like they are getting away with muddying up the terms."
Not that 400,000 terrorists is any less absurd.
Screening and law enforcement agencies encountered the actual people on the watch list (not false matches) more than 53,000 times from December 2003 to May 2007, according to a Government Accountability Office report last fall.
Okay, so I have a question. How many of those 53,000 were arrested? Of those who were not, why not? How many have we taken off the list after we've investigated them?
EDITED TO ADD (7/17): Bob Blakely runs the numbers.
EDITED TO ADD (8/13): The Daily Show's Jon Stewart on the subject.
Posted on July 16, 2008 at 6:08 AM
• 73 Comments
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I wonder if that million includes Nelson Mandela or if they remembered to decrement the count. Maybe it's really the *next* name that will win the prize :-)
C'mon Bruce, be fair. A lot of those terrorists use multiple names.
Most likely is that there's actually only one terrorist. But as long as due judicial process is an obstacle to catching him, the governments of the world will not stint in their assault on it.
Now all I can think of is that scene in the movie Congo:
One of the scientists: This is pure Kafka.
Interrogator: WHO IS KAFKA?
"I sure hope we're giving our millionth terrorist a prize of some sort."
Sure we are. Free prostate exam with every airline trip! Oh, no, wait, that's drug dealers, sorry. Do they have their own list?
So lets send them all invites to a big prize party and then when they show up to collect ....
This is their intelligence at its best. Innocent people who have their names on the list, beware of cavity search...
Damn! And here I was sure from the RSS title that the post would be about ingenious use of phishing techniques to discover terrorists....
Come to think if it, phishing would probably be more useful than the terrorist watch list.
I already requested registration on the Pennsylvania list (http://www.nostate.com/113/i-am-a-terrorist/), how can I get on the federal one?
It is worth noting that the TSA blog responded to the ACLU report by first disavowing responsibility for creating the list, and then offering a neener-neener: it's "only" 400,000 names.
One wonders how that lists of names maps onto people, though. There might be only one Jixaflix Getajet, but lots of John Smiths.
(I also wish I understood what "pre-flight screening" meant. TSA says they investigate names automatically when reservations are made. I do wonder what that investigation consists of.)
The stupidest thing is that the list includes names of terrorists that carried out a kamikaze attack (like 9/11).
Percentage of recidivists kamikaze terrorists in history has always been 0%, but, hey, you never know.
As The Daily Show pointed out, the terrorists.. excuse me... the "terrorists" use multiple names. But it averages out to about 2.5 names per. That's still around 400,000.
In other words, we're afraid of _everybody_, including ourselves. We live in terror, and we're so happy to live in terror that we brag about how scared we are. Thanks to George W. Bush, the terrorists have won.
Well, think about terrorist #1... the name we know him by, Osama bin Laden, is just a transliteration of his name by the mass media. His first name has also been transliterated as Usama, Ussamah, Oussama. His family name as bin Ladin, Binladen, Binladin, and mistakenly ben Laden in a few newspapers.
So just using variations of his real name listed above there are 20 names that would be on the watch list.
Wow, they'll need to vote a credit for Guantanamo extensions...
The list is bloated because we're trying to cover all bets.
- The 9/11 hijackers are on the list in case someone decides to use their names as a tribute.
- Unremarkable names are on the list because We All Know Real Terrorists won't use recognizable names, but choose a name like 'John Smith'
- We'll search five year-old kids and little old ladies because This Is A Serious Threat. (Why Do You Hate America?)
.. but nothing is going to change until we stop mistaking chest-beating for courage, and security theater for smart security.
The terror watch list won't change until more of false positives of significant stature happen. For example, The former head of the criminal division of the DoJ under President Clinton is on this list.
Every time he flies, he has to go through the same hassle. He is calling for a fix to the watch list. I bet if the upper echelons of the FBI, CIA, and DHS had their names on the list, the list would change very quickly.
The supplied article says that
To all that said multiple names should also be considered:
You should also think about it the other way round. One name on the list causes Problems for all persons with this name.
For the name "Robert Johnson" an interview was done with 12 persons named like this and all of them have problems to fly.
Even young kids or an comercial airline pilot can run into problems when their name is on the list. As far as I know there is no further information, just names! And with 1 million names on the list far more than 1 million people are affected.
@Mark - you mean I am on the list!!!?
Bruce, I notice that the Burglary statistics you point to seem to talk about 2 million-ish "Offences" not "Offenders".
We can probably assume that a burglar commits more than one offence per year, so can we extrapolate and say that there are far less burglars than terrorists???!
Stupid darn list!
Yeah, I think it's time we put that Bruce Schneier guy on the list. He obviously hates America. And he his name keeps coming up in reference to Chuck Norris, so let's put that name on the list too.
Ya know, I've been redeeming the codes from the blast caps that were sold to us in the 1980's by Bush's daddy on the "My Terrorist Rewards" web site for months now and all I've gotten is this lousy coupon for a 12 pack of C-4, a free tank of 50% hydrogen peroxide, and some craptastic depleted uranium shell ammo. These prizes suck.
It is less appropriate to think of the watchlist as a list of people than to think of it as a list of names. This covers the problems with both directions of the mapping (more than one name per person and more than one person per name).
I mean, a little gold bullion once in a while would work. You'd think with the price of oil where it is they could afford to spring for a little gold bullion. Maybe some viable body armor, or a couple of cases of NATO rounds that weren't made 20 years ago in China. We can't even pillage that from your own troops these days even if we get the chance.
I mean, what's the point to this "My Terrorist Rewards" game, anyway? We bought the blast caps from ya back in the 80's and that made us friends, right? Right? I still have that picture of you getting all kissyface with the sheiks, dude! Now you're holdin' out on me! I want to bring home the green like all the cool kids in Dubai!
The terrorist name list is totally ineffective until other identify information of the suspected terrorist (e.g. physical characteristics, age, etc.) are supplied. For example, the name Ted Kennedy is on the list (supposedly an Irish terrorist). However Senator Ted Kennedy was stopped at an airport last year simply because the name was on the list. Since the airport security bubbas aren't allowed to think, this created yet another unfortunate situation. That is why posting other identifying information would be more useful so we can get rid of the false positives (in other words, stop harrassing innocent people) and focus on screening for real terrorists. However, I assume that most real terrorists would be carrying false ID and the watch list would only be useful after the real identity can be determined.
2 million burglaries does not mean 2 million burglars. I've committed hundreds in Florida alone.
I mean it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when we make more profit selling our kukris to your soldiers than we can get from the formerly so profitable and lucrative "My Terrorist Rewards" game. We had such a wonderful give-and-take relationship in the '80s and now we're like last year's Noriega. WHERE is the LOVE? I mean, geez, at least when we sell your people the kukris they don't fall apart...
It's obvious that the list itself (while, yes, entirely Kafka in it's lack of transparency and invincibility to public audit) is not at fault here.
Organizations like the FBI, CIA, and your state and local police keep lists on a myriad of things, and obviously don't readily allow the public to simply delete their own names off of them as they see fit.
The real problem is how the TSA uses this list, and let's face it, what does the TSA do that isn't a problem?
The real problem here is the lack of CFS, a new buzzcronym I've just coined. Stands for "Common Fucking Sense".
When a detective has a list of potential names and aliases of murder suspects (one being say, Anne Smith), and runs into one of them on the street, in the form of a 5 year old riding her tricycle, they generally don't stop her, detain her, and give her a few cavity searches and background checks before letting her on her way... and even if they did, they certainly wouldn't repeat the procedure when they made another sweep of the block 20 minutes later.
The problem isn't "magic kafka-esque lists", the problem is them being placed in the hands of people believing that they have full right to rape you of your civil liberties simply because you're in an airport. Magic lists will always be around, the problem here is the TSA. It's a big, toothless, lackluster bully that either needs a hug, or a big punch in the face to shut it up.
How many Americans know at least one person on the list? Anyone who ever had a coffee with one, or shared a cab, or lives in the same street, or went to the same school, should probably be on the list as well, just to be on the safe side.
I think you're right about the misalignment of career incentives. But I don't think it's necessarily the fault of an agency's promotion guidelines. I think the bad career incentives come from the fact the public officials have to be seen as doing something, and nobody wants CNN to break a story saying that they removed Bin Laden's name from the watch list. Thus, its the mechanics of public perception, the media, and elected officials that are at the root of this problem.
"So just using variations of his real name listed above there are 20 names that would be on the watch list."
If they are just different spellings of the same pronunciation, the TSA should be using one of the many software engines that search for sound-similar names. I know that there are several police systems out there that already use them for ethnic names, which are often spelled differently by caucasians on forms.
Let's put everyone on the list. That way no one could fly and there would be no more terrorism in the skies. Problem solved!
And for the naysayers:
Remember, the surest way to cure a headache is to cut your head off. Absolutely, positively guaranteed to work, however possible side effects include bleeding, heart problems, difficulty breathing, potential bowel trouble, difficulty moving and erectile dysfunction.
...And oh yes, Bruce, your next book should not be called "Beyond Fear" it should be called "Beyond Idiocy" and should feature the misadventures of government at all levels.
The hardest part will be deciding what to leave out so it doesn't run to 10,000 pages.
Whether it contains a million names or only 400,000, a list that voluminous indicates two things to anyone who has a nanogram of common sense: The system that maintains the list is completely ineffective, and the people who run the system are completely incompetent. It proves, in deed if not in words, that the Homeland Security bureaucracy is utterly incapable of identifying "terrorists." So they do the only thing they can, which is to throw as many names as they can onto the list. That's presumably under the theory that if you cast a large enough net it's eventually bound to snag a fish. That's also consistent with the bureaucratic mindset that equates increasing numbers with efficacy.
Unfortunately, the Loyal Bushies who run the Homeland Security bureaucracy lack even a nanogram of common sense (otherwise they wouldn't be Loyal Bushies). If the ACLU and others make enough noise to embarrass the Homeland Security bureaucracy, the bureaucrats will go into Defensive Mode. They'll first insist that the entire watch list program is based on robust intelligence, and that every name is on there for a valid National Security reason. But since disclosing those reasons or anything else relating to the program would harm national security and aid the enemy, it must remain classified. The only thing they can disclose is that the watch list program has proven highly effective and has saved many American lives, though the specifics are classified for National Security reasons. And then they'll add to the watch lists the names of anyone who questions or criticizes the watch lists, the Homeland Security bureaucracy, or the Bush administration.
Note: If your name is George, be sure to get to the airport very early when you have to fly.
Actually the solution is that the list should be 6.x billion in length. Everyone is a potential terrorist... it just takes the right triggers, and even the most pacifist person could have a bomb strapped to them.
If there are a million names on the list, it actually covers much much more than a million people. Some of the names on the list are pretty common. How many "John Smith"s are there? The list is far more damaging than anyone really knows.
Sometimes I wonder whos side they are on. They have almost destroyed any sort of foreign tourism. Business travel is getting harder and harder. The damage to the economy far surpasses any loss from Terrorists(tm) in this country. Makes you wonder what their true goals are...
Even though there are "only" a mere 1,000,000 people on the list already. The "terrorists" (or anyone else for that matter) could start linking Senior politicians, statesmen (Not just the US ones, any foreign secrataries would be good) etc, with terror groups and get everyone of them on the list.
That would be fun.
*Hides* - the US Govmt are gonna get me for this.
@Baron Dave Romm:
>> In other words, we're afraid of _everybody_, including ourselves. We
>> live in terror, and we're so happy to live in terror that we brag about how scared we are.
>> Thanks to George W. Bush, the terrorists have won.
No, it is thanks to your own partisanship.
After Sept 11, many Democrat leaders stood up and said that the President “should have known” about the attack and it was “Bush’s fault” that we were hit. After all, he “didn’t do enough” to protect us. I don’t blame them, they were just scoring political points for their side.
What should have happened, is that you and everyone else should have shouted them down. We should have said that the fault lies with the people that attacked us, not with the President. Then those who made those ridiculous claims should have been voted out of office. Instead, every Democrat jumped on the chance to gain points against the President.
We saw the same after the recent shooting at Virginia Tech. It came out that the student that did the shooting had been in for psychological counseling. The administration was then blamed for not getting rid of him because “they knew he was a danger”.
What we did was teach our leaders that the worse thing they can do is get blamed for not doing enough. If they remove a single name from the list, and then there is another attack, they will be blamed for reducing security before the attack.
Until we change our attitude it will get worse. We must stop demanding that the government “DO SOMETHING!” every time we have a problem.
I would suspect the "free prostate exam" would be done using the same lubricant that managers use: KY pre-packed with sand.
I think most people are missing this point: who cares WHO flies--it is more important to know WHAT is flying. I really don't care if the guy sitting next to me is the waterboy for Osamba bin Laden--I care if he's got C-4 with an altimeter switch in his baggage.
Looking at names at the airport is useless--leave finding the bad guys to the police, FBI, and CIA (etc.). Let the TSA concentrate on finding real dangers, like explosives (as opposed to fake dangers, like a pocketknife).
> Even though there are "only" a mere
> 1,000,000 people on the list already.
> The "terrorists" (or anyone else for
> that matter) could start linking Senior
> politicians, statesmen (Not just the
> US ones, any foreign secrataries
> would be good) etc, with terror
> groups and get everyone of them on
Already been done. Of course all of the politicians who showed up on the list were Democrats. The Terrorist Watch List seems to accumulate a lot of names that just *happen* to be the same as critics of this administration. (The current administration have shown that given the choice of going after real Terrorists and perusing their petty political feuds, they will pick the petty every time.)
" How many of those 53,000 were arrested?"
It's a Watch List, not a Wanted List. These are people under suspicion of future criminal behaviour, not under an arrest-on-site warrant for particular crimes.
If someone holds meetings in their home country in which they lead chants of "Death To America!", you think it's a bad idea that TSA should know when they're getting on an airliner destined for a U.S. city?
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The U.S.A., once a great nation that enjoyed rule of law, is now a nation ruled by fear and little men.
Over the last 7+ years, in the name of "fighting terrists", the U.S. government has done much much more harm to America than terrorists ever could. By destroying the liberties and freedoms that made the U.S.A. such a great and powerful country, they have paved the way for its inevitable decline over the next 20 years. Sigh.
You won't have to worry about the foreign tourism for long. Because America is working darn hard to introduce the same insane rules around the world, so the playing field should be even.
Currently you can't bring water on an internal flight in Sweden, because somebody demanded that there shouldn't be waterbottles on the planes because there was, perhaps, an attack attempt using one... And of course they can't limit it just to American planes...
Lets just say this isn't improving the international view of America however. This mess is so out of hand that it's no longer funny.
Current speculation in Swedish newspapers: America leaned hard on the Swedish government to force through "FRA lagen" a law about warrantless wiretapping to simplify the spying on Russian internet traffic.
Making airplane travel 100% secure isn't going to happen. The cost of making something 100% secure is well beyond the amount of money we would lose for being 0% secure. That being said, people are expecting the measures being taken to grant near 100% security and bitch when something bad happens despite security.
The laws of physics seem to offer infinite possibilities through any security measures. Let's say they ban absolutely every liquid from going onto the plane. They also do not allow any matches, sticks, flint, steel wool, you name it.
Oops, someone brings along some salt, takes water from the restroom and boots up their laptop with a special wireless NIC which just emits radio waves. http://www.google.com/search?... = Fire on the plane (which could easily take it down if planted right). Can't bring salt in either? Airplane peanuts/pretzels.
The problem is that we are reacting to methods already devised to circumvent our security and there are infinite methods that can be employed.
We need to find the acceptable balance between security and lost lives/financial expenditure (sounds terrible but it is true).
They say they've come into contact with 53,000 of the actual people on the list over 4 years, but how would they know?
We've suggested many alternatives but perhaps you missed them.
How about abolishing TSA and Homeland Security and using the money to find Osama and others who are providing the intellectual basis for terrorism?
If you can stop young fools being attracted to the cause, you don't have to stop them trying to get onto aeroplanes, or any other mass transport.
Where were all these "Democrat leaders" blaming the President? You say they should have been voted out of office -- so I challenge you to produce quotes from Democratic officeholders blaming 9/11 on Bush.
I don't think you'll be able to do it.
TSA - Theatrical Security Actors (guild)
TSA - Theatrical Security Administration
This is beginning to resemble the Office of Future Crime, except we only have names, name variants, and no psychics.
"Until we change our attitude it will get worse. We must stop demanding that the government “DO SOMETHING!” every time we have a problem."
Dave, this is the most intelligent comment in this post. I wonder how many of you vote and contact your representatives regularly. We live in an imperfect country, but it's a hell of a lot better than any other. Make it better by being heard as an individual and as like-minded groups. Too many people are blaming everybody else for this or that. Take some responsibility and be heard. If you don't, then don't bitch about what is going on.
I've been on the list. I was 'selected' for secondary inspection on every flight for a couple of months, on several different airlines. I filled in the appropriate forms on the TSA's website, and eventually received a letter telling me I was never on any such list. So I guess all the $$$$ marks on my boarding passes were my (and my wife's) imagination. Anyway, after that it went away.
I'm a harmless :-) college professor and IT security geek, FWIW, and haven't travelled anywhere interesting or used a firearm in thirty years.
Hooray for the Kafka reference. I think Dostoyevsky and Chekhov would also be appropriate here.
@Get It Straight
You clearly didn't understand Bruce's point -- which is that the actual security we have gotten from the watch list is measured in the number of actual terrorist plots thwarted, not the number of innocent travellers harassed by uniformed thugs.
I know a 2-year old girl who's name is on the watch list. And that's the right way to put it - names are on the list, not people. No terrorist with half of a brain would travel under their own identity.
The problem is that she's now facing a lifetime of not being able to prebook a seat on an airplane because of the match (which means a life of middle seats and bumped travel). There's no way to get her off/cleared permanently. I'd love to see someone hack the list and add the entire employee directory of the TSA. How long do you think it'd be before it was dropped?
"No, it is thanks to your own partisanship."
No, the "everybody does it" defense won't work. Bush and co. screwed up before, during and after 9/11, and the mishandling of the terrorist watch list is just one example. To be sure, the Democratic Party (not the "Democrat" party) should have held Bush to a higher standard of safety and competence, but few knew just how bad he'd be, or how he would arrogantly misuse the powers given the president after 9/11.
We need adults in charge, not some politics-as-usual Republicans in continual campaign mode. The TSA is not protecting anybody, it's just making people scared. Which is what the terrorists were after.
Here's an idea for EPIC: Solicit names from people who've been flagged as being on the watch list, and publish those names - a 'public' watch list.
I wonder how many of the names on the TSA's one million name list were put there for political reasons. There are a lot of journalists and authors on TSA and INS watchlists, including (as I recall) Robert Fisk and Naomi Klein. Prominent opponents of the invasion of Iraq have also been listed as threats to security. Finally, anyone who actually believes Ted Kennedy is on the TSA because of some Irish terrorist with the same name rather than the fact that Ted Kennedy is a prominent democrat will believe anything. Cull political opponents of the Cheney regime from the TSA list and it will get a lot shorter.
Well, in making the point that "the actual security we have gotten from the watch list is measured in the number of actual terrorist plots thwarted, the question "How many of those 53,000 were arrested?" off of the watch list is a poor way to make that point.
Lack of arrests of people whose names are on the watch list does not indicate lack of thwarted terrorist plots.
It's a watch list, not a wanted list.
If these people can be prevented from boarding planes, even without arresting them, then the number of attacks they can carry out on those planes is reduced, or thwarted, if you will.
That's a success, not a failure. Better get that straight.
@ Get It Straight
Let me get this straight -- you're agreeing with the assertion that more people harassed is evidence of more terrorist plots thwarted? 'Cause that what Chad Kolton (FBI) was claiming.
To make my point in a more straightforward way, there's absolutely NO evidence that ANY of the people being harassed are actual terrorists or would-be terrorists. And that is the standard for claiming success in this case. Otherwise, the FBI can just harass passengers whose names match a randomly-generated list, and claim success.
So where's that evidence?
"there's absolutely NO evidence that ANY of the people being harassed are actual terrorists or would-be terrorists."
How do you know? Are you simultaneously present at every major airport in the world? How do you know that that subset of non-U.S. citizens whose names are on the watch list for good reason, were not harassed at de Gaulle? Or Heathrow? And as a result of that harassment aborted plans for an attack on that flight on that day?
What you mean to say is that all of the harassment of people whose names you believe to be wrongly on that list, has come to naught. Sure. But that's true with all security screening.
"Let me get this straight -- you're agreeing with the assertion that more people harassed is evidence of more terrorist plots thwarted?"
No. Here's the assertion: If persons with terrorist intent can be prevented from boarding planes, even without arresting them, then the number of attacks they can carry out on those planes is reduced. Remember, Bruce's question was How many of those 53,000 were arrested? And lack of arrests of people whose names are on the watch list does not indicate lack of thwarted terrorist plots.
Trouble is, how do you know who has terrorist intent? You can look at past action, and if you're familiar with the concept of recidivism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recidivism), you might be able to categorize some persons as deserving of more intense scrutiny. (Trouble is, blowing oneself up is not conducive to recidivism.)
So you can't, with 100% certainty, ascertain beforehand who has mens rea. So everybody gets screened.
No, what I mean to say is that Kolton claims to have presented us such evidence. Or he fails to recognize its importance to the claim he is making. In either case, his claim is faulty. You just won't engage with that claim, and take it on faith. Whatever.
I don't care what Kolton claims. I'm not speaking for him; he's not speaking for me.
If you believe his claims are faulty, tell him, not me.
I offered an answer to Bruce's question, and posed one of my own. That's it.
Jiminy Christmas! G.I.S.!
"""I sure hope we're giving our millionth terrorist a prize of some sort."""
I'm guessing it's not a free flight.
Think of it as the Conservative response to the Dare Not Fly list, the list of Conservatives who dare not fly to Europe for fear of being arrested and rendited to the Hague for war crimes.
Has any person been denied boarding, or have they just been frisked and had their belongings searched, first?
Many of those encounters were probably people called "Muhammed Hussein" who have nothing to do with the watch list save for sharing a name with somebody on it. Such as the 3-year old kid considered to be on the no-fly list.
I agree with the person who said: The problem is how the TSA uses this list, and let's face it, what does the TSA do that isn't a problem?
The real problem here is the lack of CFS, a new buzzcronym I've just coined. Stands for "Common Fucking Sense".
I would also add that when I travel by plane alone I never get searched, but EVERY time my husband travels by air, he gets searched. He is blond haired, blue eyed, 5'10", thin, wears glasses, looks unassuming, has never done anything to warrant the attention. If I travel with him and the kids, we all get searched. My 8 & 2 year olds are now totally familiar with being wanded. I believe the TSA just picks harmless looking people so that can't get accused of racial profiling. 1 time a guy with palistinian turban, beard, helter-skelter eyes, in a sweat, walked by unsearched while we (with the 2 year old) got searched along with a harmless looking grandmother type. Meanwhile all bags are not scanned. Ridiculous.
Of course it's a free flight...
...only the destination is fixed :-)
No to my cato sentence:
There is no security threat, all this nonsence is spinning free.
Change "No to" to "Now to"
Did Ted Kennedy ever get off the watch list? In my eyes that was a test case. If he did manage to get his name removed, it was an "existence proof" that it could actually be done - although perhaps only for people in the public eye and able to exert massive political pressure.
Of course, even if the name "Ted Kennedy" was removed, he may still be on there through one or more aliases.
@Constantly searched at the Airport:
I'm curious: how did you know the guy's turban was "Palistinian"?
@davidtg (comment #1)
No, the list does not include Nelson Mandela. According to The Daily Show, they finally took his name off the list recently.
Constantly's comment is actually stupider than that (and yes, turbans are not exactly a hallmark of palestine). If I were a bearded, swarthy-skinned male between the ages of 18 and 60 I would be terrified and sweating every time I went to a US airport, even if my family had lived in the US for generations and I had been vetted for a top-secret clearance. As we've seen reported time and again, it only takes some loony fellow passenger or airline/airport employee making a complaint to get someone fitting that profile detained or thrown off their flight.
The numbers don't take into account the likelihood of mismatches. That is, the failure to deal with alternate spellings, typos, nicknames and all sorts of other variations that create uncertainties about apparent matches. Even with the best available 'similarity' search technologies, the confidence level in matching a person to an entry in the database is at best 95%. And even there, you get a huge proportion of false positives. Whatever you do to reduce the number of false positives (good guys stopped) raises the number of false negatives (bad guys let through) and the tradeoff cannot be eliminated because of the imprecision of the matching technology.
So even if you had an accurate list of actual terrorists containing no nonterrorists, the problem would not be solved.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.