UK Immigration Officer Puts Wife on the No-Fly List

A UK immigration officer decided to get rid of his wife by putting her on the no-fly list, ensuring that she could not return to the UK from abroad. This worked for three years, until he put in for a promotion and—during the routine background check—someone investigated why his wife was on the no-fly list.

Okay, so he’s an idiot. And a bastard. But the real piece of news here is how easy it is for a UK immigration officer to put someone on the no-fly list with absolutely no evidence that that person belongs there. And how little auditing is done on that list. Once someone is on, they’re on for good.

That’s simply no way to run a free country.

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 1:35 PM49 Comments


Moz February 4, 2011 1:54 PM

I hate to say it; the real news is that a) someone checked (sort of; he ‘fessed up in an interview) and b) they actually reacted and c) he actually got fired. Compare that with putting political opponents on the list as elsewhere (e.g. peace activists in the US).

I’d like to say that the news is that he didn’t get any criminal charges against him. Unfortunately I guess that’s normal.

Best quote from the articles:

[em]To my knowledge[/em], no DHS or TSA official has tried the no-fly trick on his or her spouse,

neurobonkers February 4, 2011 2:15 PM

This really highlights the main problem with the database state. When data is centralised there is far greater potential for abuse and more importantly, that abuse is more damaging.

david February 4, 2011 2:22 PM

The news articles seem to indicate that she was not allowed to board a plane for England. What’s to prevent her from taking a plane to Paris, train to the coast and a ferry to England. Does the no-fly list apply to the ferry also? Does the no-fly list apply to all of the EU?

Helper February 4, 2011 2:27 PM

So, it’s just an anecdote. Nothing to worry about.

One person ruins another’s life all the time, no-fly or no no-fly.

The important thing is, it’s mostly a list of Very Bad People and we’re all Much Safer because of it.

aikimark February 4, 2011 2:37 PM

That’s simply no way to run a free country.

I think it would be more accurate if written:
“This is simply no way to run a free country.”

I don’t assume that our No-fly list is any better than the UK.

Tony February 4, 2011 2:52 PM

Wow Bruce, your commenters are really quite nitpicky. Even if this is only one example, how many more have gone unnoticed? Even if this is only one issue, it highlights the thought that has gone into this system (which is obviously not enough). Thank you for bringing this to light.

Helper February 4, 2011 3:04 PM

Yes, Tony. We’re nitpicky. So’s Bruce.

And some of us are also sarcastic.
But which ones?

jon February 4, 2011 3:22 PM

Yup. People with power will abuse their authority. The problem with the No-Fly list is that people on it aren’t aware until they try to fly, where great inconvenience results. Then, because the No-Fly list is a black box, you can’t find out why you’re on it, or how to get off the list. So there’s no responsibility on the part of the authorities to ensure that those on the list truly deserve the designation, nor is there a rational procedure to be removed from the list, and no compensation for errors – even when they are malicious.

Jonathan February 4, 2011 3:22 PM

So, a story from the Daily Mail, a source not known for it’s journalistic integrity, and two other sources that say that “According to the Daily Mail Online&helip;” While this is horrible, I’m not yet convinced that it’s true.

SadButMadLad February 4, 2011 3:24 PM

@Helper – “The important thing is, it’s mostly a list of Very Bad People and we’re all Much Safer because of it.”

Are you sure? The list is mostly of people who have done something slightly naughty or stupid or who have annoyed the TSA or commited a crime which doesn’t mean that they are a terrorist. The numbers of really bad people on it is small and they probably wouldn’t be flying in the US anyway, that is if they haven’t used an alias like Ted Kennedy (look him up and his interactions with the TSA).

You just think you are safer because of the no fly list. It’s a placebo, it doesn’t actually make you any safer.

The risk of dying in a plane from any method (accident or terrorist) is still smaller than driving to the airport.

Andrew February 4, 2011 3:33 PM

It is also easy for police officers to put information about you on national intelligence databases, without evidence for the accusation or judicial review.

When officers come along and read it, they start to think X,Y,Z about you because of what was written.

To get the information taken off the intelligence databases is near impossible for the victim.

Joe Buck February 4, 2011 4:29 PM

@Moz: the only reason the guy was caught was that he was up for promotion, so they ran a background check on him, and found out that his wife was on the no-fly list. They didn’t check because of any complaints coming from the wife.

BF Skinner February 4, 2011 4:54 PM

As the above have pointed out – she wasn’t prevented from returning to the UK. Must never even have tried (though if she did by air may have a basis for a lawsuit). This would only have harrassed her when she attempted to fly anyplace…did she? Did she even notice? Was she even prevented from movement.

So when the government harassess someone that’s national security. But when a disgruntled ex-spouse does it; it’s a fireable offense. Interesting.

EH February 4, 2011 5:21 PM

Couldn’t it also be interpreted as, “this is how free countries are run now.”

Besides, that…THREE YEARS.

Another Kevin February 4, 2011 6:03 PM

@SadButMadLad – I think your irony detector needs to be adjusted. While of course the TSA has no sense of irony at all, and we’re all Much Safer because of it.

Peter Maxwell February 4, 2011 6:13 PM

@Jonathan at February 4, 2011 3:22 PM:

‘So, a story from the Daily Mail, a source not known for it’s journalistic integrity, and two other sources that say that “According to the Daily Mail Online&helip;” While this is horrible, I’m not yet convinced that it’s true.’

Yeah, I’m also wondering whether this is actually true. The lack of names and any references whatsoever doesn’t bode well.

RSX February 4, 2011 6:26 PM

I think the landmark achievement here is that someone actually did an investigation; More of a shock is it’s someone who doesn’t work for the GAO. And the bigger news is someone bothered reporting on it and it wasn’t bribed off of the internet.

But yeah the UK? You think public surveillance is a problem here in the states, then spend a week on the streets of the UK and you’ll be singing a different tune about how restrictive your rights really are here.

Imperfect Citizen February 4, 2011 7:09 PM

I wonder if it isn’t the same here? Wasn’t there a bit on the NCTC and the huge lists nobody can get off of?
I was laughing as I read this because even today one of my observers near the federal building pointed at me and said “isn’t she the one they have nothing on?” The other guy laughed and said “yes its really stupid”. Its tragic when you are the victim. I feel sorry for that woman. I feel really sorry for my kid, he’s treated to the same military protocol I am. I wonder what future he will have? Will they ever take us off the list? If observers laugh and point and don’t take it seriously, why does the FBI take it seriously enough to keep paying for it?

Slarty February 4, 2011 9:06 PM

Good point about the ‘news’paper concerned.

Basically, you shouldn’t believe anything printed in the Daily Mail or Express. They have even withdrawn from the Press Council in the UK (the press is self-regulated in Britain) because they have called to account so many times they’ve given up.

As an ex-Intelligence professional (and so theoretically with a slightly better view of what is really happening) I would rank the reliability of the newspapers in the UK for facts as follows:

  1. Financial Times / Economist
  2. The Guardian (many will argue with this, but it’s the only one owned by a trust. Fascinating history.)
  3. The Independent
  4. The Telegraph
  5. The Times
    Then there’s a huge gulf down to:
  6. The Sun
  7. The Mirror

I don’t class the Mail or Express as newspapers – more like comics without the pictures

Actually, it would be interesting to survey a wide group of intelligence staff to see what we think as a collective!

Richard Steven Hack February 4, 2011 10:35 PM

I’m inclined to believe the story is true regardless of the source simply because it’s so stupid it’s plausible. Anyone here really think it couldn’t happen regardless of unclear details about the wife’s behavior?

That’s the point. We all know it could happen. And we all know something like it probably has.

I mean, Ted Kennedy the Senator on the no-fly list? Isn’t that infinitely more stupid than this incident? Does anyone doubt that he got on the list for exactly this sort of reason – someone didn’t like him?

NobodySpecial February 4, 2011 10:52 PM

From the great “Yes minister”
Hacker: I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

Adrian February 5, 2011 3:13 AM

The interesting line from Bruce’s original posting was: “That’s simply no way to run a free country.”

This statement is a practical application of quantum theory. Bruce is correct, it is no way to run a free country. Bruce is also wrong because the inherent assertion is that Britain is a free country. And this a flawed statement.

Britain is not a free country. There is a lot you cannot do without the authority of the state. You cannot become a scout master without a full police check being conducted. If you photograph a public building, this is an act of terrorism. If you photograph a police car, even an unmarked police car that you had no idea actually was a police car, this is also an act of terrorism.

These people scanners at airports are supposed to be optional. But when I attempted to assert my rights and asked if they were, I was told “yes, they are optional, you have the option not to fly”.

Everywhere I go, I am photographed and recorded. I did a quick check. On my way to the office I am recorded on 27 different cameras that I could see. This is a 10 minute walk to the station, a 20 minute commuter ride on a train, and a 10 minute bus at the other end.

The police need only the flimsiest of reasons to stop and search someone. Wearing a hoodie top is one, tripping over a paving stone is another. They can simply say that your driving was erratic and – welcome to an impromptu car search.

The joke in Britain is that the ancient Egyptians have a lot to teach us: you know, those older ones in Tahir Square right now. Those one.

So this story does not surprise me in the least.

Welcome to Britain, home of the modern police state.

(And before anyone accuses me of being a left wing, raving religious nut, I am mild centre right in my voting and supported a lot of these things when they were brought in 10 years ago.)

anon February 5, 2011 3:38 AM

and supported a lot of these things when they were brought in 10 years ago

Well I guess you deserve it then.

Jimmy February 5, 2011 4:07 AM

This story smells a bit fishy. As well as the boat/tunnel already mentioned, there is the small matter of a land border with Ireland that is totally open (no immigration controls)

Ken February 5, 2011 8:54 AM

@Jimmy –

Last I looked, Scotland and Wales have land borders with England, but you have to swim to get there from Ireland.

Robert in San Diego February 5, 2011 9:59 AM

One can only hope this will lead to some institutional reexaminations of do not fly list policies and content. Or is the list created in such a way that “auditing” an entry is basically a complete reinvestigation of who this person is and why they might be on the list?

NobodySpecial February 5, 2011 10:09 AM

@ken – this is why we urgently need a no-swim list to protect us form terrorists.

(although not Irish ones of course because it turns out they weren’t terrorists – those were just overly exuberant cultural displays)

Steven February 5, 2011 10:54 AM

a watch list of people banned from boarding flights into Britain because their presence in the country is ‘not conducive to the public good’.

That isn’t a no-fly list.
It’s a list of people who aren’t allowed in the country at all.
Some are considered dangerous; some are just politically embarrassing (to the gov’t).
That’s why she couldn’t enter the country by sea, land (Ireland), or rail (chunnel), either.

In addition, the article says “the woman was unable for three years to return from Pakistan after travelling to the county to visit family.”

I’m guessing she is Pakistani, and not a British national. People squawk about British surveillance and their nanny state, but I don’t think the British have reached the point of exiling their own citizens, even through backdoors like no-fly and banned persons lists.

Colin February 5, 2011 11:10 AM

I am sceptical about this. If this was a real incident – I am sure the British tabloids would have been SCREAMING his name out loud.

QnJ1Y2U February 5, 2011 11:51 AM

The United States abuse of the no-fly list is a bit better documented – the most recent case was that of Gulet Mohamed. Details at sig and in Wikipedia; the short version:

  • US citizen is arrested in Kuwait, probably at behest of US officials.
  • Kuwaitis fail to beat a confession out of him, and order him deported.
  • He makes it the airport, but the US will not let their own citizen return to the US because he was put on the no-fly list while he was detained.
  • Kuwait re-arrests him. Their procedure is that deportees must fly out – no other options.
  • Judge in the US intervenes, and he’s finally allowed to return to the US.

The really scary part is that he only had a judicial recourse because someone smuggled a cell phone into the prison. Otherwise, the US would probably have let him rot there.

We have reached the point of exiling our own citizens.

Ken Hagler February 5, 2011 1:45 PM

“We have reached the point of exiling our own citizens.”

Let’s not forget that it’s the official position of the U.S. Government that anyone, anywhere (including U.S. citizens) may be imprisoned, tortured or killed at any time with no due process whatsoever. All it takes is someone with the power to do so saying “you’re a terrorist” and you can be tortured to death at any time. No way to run a free country? Of course not, but it’s a time-honored way of running and Evil Empire.

Tony H. February 5, 2011 2:27 PM

“Last I looked, Scotland and Wales have land borders with England, but you have to swim to get there from Ireland.”

Neither England nor Scotland has a land border with Ireland, but the UK has. Once in Northern Ireland there are no controls on your travel to the rest of the UK. Of course if you’re on a no-fly list there may be trouble, but there are ferries to both England and Scotland.

bungiefan February 6, 2011 6:37 PM

“The news articles seem to indicate that she was not allowed to board a plane for England. What’s to prevent her from taking a plane to Paris, train to the coast and a ferry to England. Does the no-fly list apply to the ferry also? Does the no-fly list apply to all of the EU?”

Well, in the US it blocks all international travel. I am in Alaska with a friend on the no-fly list, and he cannot leave the state, or get to most of the state since air travel is required. They won’t let him cross the Canadian border on the road, and he can’t ride the ferry to Washington state. He is effectively confined to the road system, in a state that requires air travel, and isn’t connected to the rest of the country.

AFAIK the no-fly list can keep you from crossing international borders in countries that participate with INTERPOL.

Mark J. February 6, 2011 10:30 PM

Who said the UK is a free country? You can’t sneeze in London without it being recorded and they’re on the verge of monitoring all internet and cell phone communication. Freedom is a relative term these days.

bob (the original bob) February 7, 2011 7:52 AM

@”various other means of transport”:

I would be willing to bet that commercial cross-channel travel other than aircraft (ferry, hovercraft, and especially the chunnel) check the list as well. I believe you could induce a charter-type light aircraft to fly you across and then your only issue would be HM Customs, rather than the “no-fly” list per se.

I think the fitting punishment (In addition to firing) here would be export him to Pakistan and put him on the no-fly list.

@NobodySpecial: LOL
That reminds me of a joke I heard a long time ago on the difference between heaven and hell:
“In heaven; the British are the waiters, the French are the cooks, the Italians are the lovers and the Germans do the organizing. In hell; the Germans are the lovers, the French are the waiters, the British are the cooks and the Italians do the organizing.”

paul February 7, 2011 9:46 AM

So if I were a terrorist and wanted to screw up the economies and polities of the western world, what better job for a sleeper agent to get than…

Oh, wait.

GreenSquirrel February 7, 2011 10:27 AM

I am, like some others here, doubtful of the veracity here – however in principle this is something that could happen and a good reason why allowing such monumental state control is simply (and will always be) wrong.

As an aside, the UK doesnt have a “no-fly” list as such. If you are flagged as a terrorist in the system then you are going to find it hard to get into the mainland from anywhere.

Interestingly, yes the border between NI and the Republic is very porous, however ISTR that the crossings from NI to UK (i.e. the Belfast – Stranraer ferry) are checked against the list and Belfast Ports Special Branch are very active at identifying undesirables. If she really was a terrorist there are ways and means around this but 99% of people would not think of this and simply be excluded.

Like lots of our Glorious Government’s control measures this is one that impacts the movements of innocent / low level baddies more than genuine terrorists.

nycman February 7, 2011 2:16 PM

As far as I can tell, the great no-fly infrastructure still boils down to an ID check. And how hard could it possibly be for a ‘real’ terrorist to get a fake ID? Sure, entering the U.S via air might be a bit more difficult, but with U.S. domestic air travel you only get a rudimentary ID check to match name with boarding pass, all of which can easily be forged by a ‘real terrorist’.

Dirk Praet February 7, 2011 5:43 PM

I’m having serious doubt about this article. I know of only two countries that operate a specific no-fly list, i.e. the US and Canada. In the UK, a proposal for the same was introduced somewhere in 2010. This means that if the wife hadn’t been able to return to the UK for three years, her name should have been on the UK list already in 2008.

I’m therefor assuming the article is refering to a Home Office watch list with names of all kinds of people and groups that for some reason are not welcome in the UK. The problem with all of these lists is the same. They’re easy to get on to – especially if you got the same name of someone already on there – but for the average Joe (or Jane) quite difficult, if not impossible, to have access to or appeal against. In a free and democratic country, everyone should have this right. If not, the doors are wide open for Kafkaian abuse.

Scott February 7, 2011 8:27 PM

The article sounds a bit contrived, but as for no-fly lists I had a friend who works for DHS offer to put my ex on it gratis – it’s that easy (I declined).

bob (the original bob) February 8, 2011 6:48 AM

You know, this would be a pretty good way to balance the federal budget – let people pay to have others put on the list! Kind of like those charity carnivals where you can pay to have someone else “arrested”.

Jon February 9, 2011 4:53 PM

@ Helper at February 4, 2011 2:27 PM
“The important thing is, it’s mostly a list of Very Bad People and we’re all Much Safer because of it.”

I know your post was in (resigned?) jest, but ISTR that actual known terrorists were excluded from being placed on the No Fly List because being barred from from flying would tip them off that they were under surveillance. Then there’s the ‘catch and release’ policy for people who are on the list and present themselves at airports.

Yeah, the whole convoluted pointlessness of it all hurts my brain too.

James Moughan March 6, 2011 11:25 AM

The story would be more plausible if the UK had actually had a no-fly list 3 years ago. Plans for one were drawn up last year but there have no references to it by anyone since then.

Maria July 15, 2011 1:57 AM

While this does seem possible, did it happen? Why would the man put his wife on the no-fly list to begin with? Why didn’t she leave the country? Was she not allowed? Did they throw her in jail because they thought she was a criminal?

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