Robert Johnson. Gary Smith. John Williams. Daniel Brown. James Moore. These are but a few of the 44,000 names on the federal government’s “no-fly list,” which CBS News said it has obtained and will feature on Sunday’s 60 Minutes television broadcast.
CBS reported Thursday that its investigative reporter Steve Kroft obtained a copy of the no-fly list in cooperation with the National Security News Service and on Sunday’s broadcast will speak to a former FBI counterterrorism agent who will say how ineffective the no-fly list has been in catching terrorists.
The former FBI agent, Jack Cloonan, knew the list that was hastily assembled after 9/11, would be bungled. “When we heard the name list or no-fly list — the eyes rolled back in my head, because we knew what was going to happen,” he says. “They basically did a massive data dump and said, ‘Okay, anybody that’s got a nexus to terrorism, let’s make sure they get on the list,'” he tells Kroft.
The “data dump” of names from the files of several government agencies, including the CIA, fed into the computer compiling the list contained many unlikely terrorists. These include Saddam Hussein, who is under arrest, Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. It also includes the names of 14 of the 19 dead 9/11 hijackers. — CBS News
“Easy to evade, it provides no protection against people who haven’t yet done anything wrong, who haven’t come to the attention of security officials, or who have adopted an alias,” writes Jim Harper, Cato Institute director of information policy studies. “Terrorist planners are nothing more than inconvenienced by having to use people with ‘clean’ records.”
The pointless listing of people who are dead or have already been detained, as well as uncounted thousands of very common names, is bad enough. But the no-fly list doesn’t actually include current terrorism suspects, such as the British suspects arrested in August for a foiled plot to bomb U.S. airliners, or other people who have actually committed terrorist acts.
Why aren’t terrorists and terrorist suspects on the no-fly list?
The excuse the government gave is because the terrorists might find out that they’re on the no-fly list. “The government doesn’t want that information outside the government,” Cathy Berrick, director of Homeland Security investigations for the General Accounting Office, told CBS News.
So much for a no-fly list that actually accomplishes its stated purpose of stopping terrorists. What’s the point of inconveniencing thousands of Americans again? If you aren’t putting terrorist suspects on the list, but just common names and people like Saddam Hussein who are not likely to fly anytime soon, what exactly is the point?