FBI agents have tried to use the No-Fly List as a draconian tool to coerce Americans into spying on their communities.To say the national 'No Fly List' has been dysfunctional from it's inception after September 11th 2001 would be an understatement. The stories are legion. Literally hundreds of would-be flyers have shown up at airports only to be turned away and even detained and interrogated because either their names are similar to ones deemed suspect in some way by federal authorities -- or -- their names matched a name on the list exactly. And even after proven not to be a terrorist threat many of those people who were erroneously listed found themselves left with no recourse to rectify the situation. Some people have waited for years to get off the list. Some people are still waiting.
Well, apparently the FBI is taking advantage of some of those victims of bureaucratic dysfunction by coercing many of them into being neighborhood informants for the agency.
Somehow, this doesn't surprise me at all.
According to the ACLU:
Over the last three years, the FBI has dramatically expanded its No-Fly List of suspected terrorists, including blacklisting innocent Americans who present no threat to security.Erroneously being put on the list can a direct threat to individual due process rights and the process does nothing to make flying safer for American citizens. It's an assault on constitutional rights, and being stuck on the list can, and often does, lead to irreparable harm to one's reputation in a community. Blacklisting can also disrupt careers by making business travel virtually impossible.
The Americans we represent in Latif v. Holder, the ACLU's challenge to the government's No-Fly List procedures, provide a prime example. They were each denied boarding on planes, deprived of their right to travel, and smeared as suspected terrorists. Yet the government continues to deny them any after-the-fact explanation for their blacklisting or any meaningful chance to clear their names.
And then there's the [even] darker side of the equation.
FBI agents put this pressure on ACLU clients Abe Mashal, a Marine veteran; Amir Meshal; and Nagib Ali Ghaleb. Each of these Americans spoke to FBI agents to learn why they were suddenly banned from flying and to clear up the errors that led to that decision. Instead of providing that explanation or opportunity, FBI agents offered to help them get off the No-Fly List—but only in exchange for serving as informants in their communities.Our clients refused.His is not a unique experience. An airline at Chicago's Midway Airport denied boarding to Abe Mashal. After questioning Mashal about his religious beliefs and practices, FBI agents told him that is he agreed to serve as an informant for the FBI, his name would be removed from the No Fly List and he would be compensated for his cooperation. But when Mashal refused, the feds immediately ended the meeting leaving Mashal virtually in a state of limbo.
The ACLU's report, Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI's Unchecked Abuse of Authority, explains what happened to Nagib Ali Ghaleb. Nagib was denied boarding when trying to fly home to San Francisco after a trip to visit family in Yemen. Stranded abroad and desperate to return home, Nagib sought help from the U.S. embassy in Yemen and was asked to submit to an FBI interview. FBI agents offered to arrange for Nagib to fly back immediately to the United States if he would agree to tell the agents who the "bad guys" were in Yemen and San Francisco. The agents insisted that Nagib could provide the names of people from his mosque and the San Francisco Yemeni community. The agents said they would have Nagib arrested and jailed in Yemen if he did not cooperate, and that Nagib should "think about it." Nagib, however, did not know any "bad guys" and therefore refused to spy on innocent people in exchange for a flight home.
Neither Nagib nor Abe present a threat to aviation security. But FBI agents sought to exploit their fear, desperation, and confusion when they were most vulnerable, and to coerce them into working as informants. Moreover, the very fact that FBI agents asked Nagib and Abe to spy on people for the government is yet another indication that the FBI doesn't actually think either man is a suspected terrorist. This abusive use of a government watch list underscores the serious need for regulation, oversight, and public accountability of an FBI that has become unleashed and unaccountable.The ACLU continues the fight for accountability. They're currently pushing to institute a fair redress system for everyone erroneously on the No-Fly List through the courts with the Latif v. Holder case.
But Congress could do it quicker... if they themselves weren't so dysfunctional.