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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Is Uncle Sam�s �No Fly List� a net to supress voice?
Elicited Responses

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Is Uncle Sam�s �No Fly List� a net to supress voice?
Elicited Responses

17 September 2004


It seems that my Turin travelogue, �I Got Trapped in the Secret �No Fly List� of the Transportation Security Administration� (posted on September 1) had hit a nerve among quite a number of Eelam Tamils and non-Tamils. I very much appreciate the phone calls and mails of sympathy and advice I received from concerned readers.

Few years ago, actor Paul Newman was asked in a magazine interview about what he considered as his pinnacle of professional achievement. The guy who inimitably played the �Cool Hand Luke� role delivered his cool and mocking answer; �To be number 19th in Nixon�s enemy list� of 1971. Taking a cue from my movie idol Paul Newman � whose liberal political ideals I subscribe to -, now I can also brag that �To be in Uncle Sam�s No Fly List� is a badge of some sort. Lately, this No Fly List has become a headliner, that it has even gained the NFL abbreviation, to share the spotlight with the national football league, the original recipient of the NFL abbreviation.

I did not expect that one reader by the user name �Kari Sinhalavan� (a Tamil of course) had submitted my Turin travelogue to a net chat board, AboutMy Talk.com (www.aboutmytalk.com) on September 3rd with a tagged question �No Fly List� � is a net to suppress voice?�. Within 24 hours, this posting had elicited responses from six correspondents with user names Matt, Fly Guy, EAC, Bud a Bing, Lee Bell and Frank F.Matthews. I provide below excerpts from 15 responses. I have corrected the originals only for spelling and deleted the irrelevant vituperative asides. Few of the responses address the details presented in my Turin travelogue directly, while others ignore these and address generally the problems and consequences of NFL-initiated politics. All the same, I found these responses more than of ephemeral interest.

Response 1: Matt, September 3, 2004

I admit to not knowing the answer to this question, but are foreign airlines somehow required to use the no-fly list? If JAL [Japan Air Lines] doesn't use it then I assume the other airlines are using it voluntarily. In which case Mr. Kantha's complaint should be solely with the airline. It sounds like Al Italia went as far as to notify the local police of his presence. Strange story, at least he kept the America bashing to a minimum. Also, is there an international no-fly list maintained by Interpol, or similar agency. Or is the only no fly list maintained by the TSA?

Obviously the whole idea of a no-fly list needs some work to protect the innocent. But its a no-win situation for law enforcement and airlines. If a known terrorist got on a plane and tried to blow it up and we didn't have a no-fly list, the same people that complain about the no-fly list would complain that the airline let a known terrorist on the plane.

Response 2: Fly Guy, September 3, 2004

It's a no-win situation for the people on the list. The airlines don't care if there's a list - or not. And a professional terrorist wouldn't arrange to have a set of fake ID when the time came?

I bet Lloyds of London (and the world-wide insurance syndicate) is behind the no-fly-list. They've probably made it mandatory for there be such a list as a condition for them to continue to provide liability insurance for the worlds� air lines. I've just heard that CSIS (the Canadian version of FBI/CIA/NSA) will create or maintain a Canadian version of the no-fly-list for domestic flights within Canada (the reason being that domestic flights require less documentation, an indication that perhaps passport scanning does currently trigger some sort of terrorist recognition system which doesn't seem to kick in with other types of ID).

CSIS is the same bunch of clowns that pretty much knew that there would be a bomb on Air India flight 182 in 1985 and are now covering up for their incompentence. You can bet that if someone they were watching wanted to get on a plane (and was on the No Fly list) that they'd let them on the plane anyway. That's the problem with �intelligence� agencies like FBI and CSIS. They don't want to blow their cover so they let people that they're watching go about their business, even if that business includes getting on a plane.

Has any �terrorist� anywhere been caught by the no fly list? Or are the airlines and ticket agents of the world doing the work of the local police in looking for known felons, thieves, criminals, activists, etc, in the name of �terrorism�?

Response 3: EAC, September 3, 2004

The ones who own many 'foreign' airlines also owned U.S.A.'s airlines; basically many airlines around the world are actually owned by the same group of people. It's a global economy you know. It should be noted that many Singaporeans feels like that Singapore Airlines isn't really an airline company that is really Singaporean. The other airlines are using it[ the No Fly List] voluntarily.Voluntary as in that's what their superiors told them to do. Of course, their superiors have their own superiors.

Mr. Kantha's complaint should be to Singapore Airlines, AND the US Transportation Security Administation, AND the airline of Alitalia, AND the Italian police force.

The official line is that the 'no-fly' is to prevent innocent causalties. In reality, it is used to bug people and make people upset. That will defame airlines, countries, and so on. Even if there's a list, what make you so sure that the person that will cause harm would be in the list?

Besides, with the amount of security an airport (even pre-9/11), the only way to blow up an airplane is for you to be involved in the government. A no-fly list is useless anyway, because the people who will cause harm and are involved in a network, are usually intentionally allowed to board the plane and caused harm. Why? Because they all work together. The airlines, the criminals, the airport officials, cooperate with each other.

Response 4: Bud A Bing, September 4, 2004

Actually, the Airlines have the final say. The TSA warning is flashed on the screen, and the airlines go from there. As a �Gold Member� on the no-fly list, I only have a problem with Delta, AA & America West. The rest cancel the warning, and I'm on my way.

Response 5: Kari Sinhalavan, September 4, 2004

It is US that control TSA list. How come Professor Kantha's name went into that list? Is it because of US or Sri Lankan government using dirty tricks to put his name on the TSA list?? I know Professor Kantha worked in US as well as Japan. At the same time he is very vocal about Sri Lankan government genocide against Tamils. I just want to know who maintain that list and who else have influence to force US government to enter somebody's name on false accusation. If his name is entered in TSA list then how come he is a good citizen while he was in US? [G.W.] Bush is painting everybody's [face] with the same brush. It is like accusing Canada for letting 9/11 attackers but all of them came to US straight from obtaining visa from US embassy. If you can't do the job don't blame others and put others in hardship like Professor Kantha. You are not making friends.

Response 6: Matt, September 4, 2004

You had me until the Bush bashing, which taints your argument. From what you're saying, it is the Sri Lankan government that's probably responsible for putting him [Kantha] on the list. And yet you don't place any blame on Alitalia (for reporting him to the local police), Singapore Airlines (for not letting him board), the local police in Italy for arresting him without cause, or the SriLankan government for abusing the list for political reasons (if that's what happened).

I'm not defending the way the system currently works. As I said before, I think it needs fixing. But, in general, I think it's a good idea to keep track of when terrorists and suspected terrorists get on a plane.

Response 7: Fly Guy, September 4, 2004

We have an administration in Washington that broadcasts everything and anything that can be construed as a victory on the War On Terror. The sting a year or so ago against some guy (Russian) who was going to barter some arms deal (dirty bomb components?). The very minute the sting went down we were hearing about it on the evening news. The predictor drone that took out some bad guys somewhere a year or so ago - we heard about it (shouldn't have - that's top secret technology; but no, the White House needs the press).

As someone had said, it's not the person that boards a plane, but what they bring with them. So no, I wouldn't be upset if a �terrorist� got on a plane. In contrast, I'm mildly upset (and over time, increasingly so) that the average cabin full of passengers will not know how to deal with the next hijacking incident because (1) There is nothing new in the pre-take-off announcements or messages that tell people what is expected of them in the case of a threat to the plane caused by a fellow passenger. (2) The cowards in the Whitehouse and FAA have never said in public what airline passengers should do if a hijacking should ever happen again.

The single largest asset a cabin full of passengers has to insure their own safety and that of the plane since 9/11 is their collective ability to know and understand how to react during a hijacking situation. One week after 9/11 I'm sure they all knew. One year? One decade? You tell me. And I'll tell you something else. If your name was on the no fly list, I'd bet you wouldn't be singing the same praise for the list as you are now.

Two more things:

(1) Why does the FBI post their �most wanted� list in public? If they do that, why can't the no fly list be posted in public? Are those people on the NFL �really wanted� on arrest warrents, or do we just want to make their life hell and relagate them to taking Amtrak or Greyhound instead of United [Airlines]? How do you feel that the government can keep such a list and compel private corporations to discriminate against those people (who could be US Citizens) without legal recourse? What's next - a �no car-rent list� ? A �no credit-card list�? A �no mortgage list�?

2) Why not go further? If the people on the NFL are so bad, and must be aprehended at all cost, then why not force the credit-card companies to divulge the names and addresses of anyone with a similar name, and alert the FBI whenever those people make a transaction. Those people could be hunted down in a second if the government really wanted those people. If the government really wanted to get those NFL people then their names and pictures would be posted in every airport, post office and bus/train station. That�s what you do when you want to capture someone. You tell people about it.

Response 8: Lee Bell, September 4, 2004

[Does] anybody know what his [Kantha�s] name happens to be on such a list?
[Does] anybody know whether someone with the same name is or is not a terrorist?
[Does] anybody know whether the writer of the posted document is or is not a terrorist?
[Does] anybody know that the report that was posted actually happened?
[Does] anybody think that it might be nice to have the answers to these questions before blaming anybody?

[An interrupting note from the protagonist Kantha: I should respond promptly to correspondent Lee Bell�s 4th question. Due to the masking provided in the internet world and the fictional stories circulating in the net as facts, this correspondent has valid doubts about the incident which happened to me on August 21 at the Nagoya airport. I had provided a named source [Mr.Louis Tay, the station chief of Singapore Air Lines of the Nagoya airport] in my travelogue and thus my story can be independently verified. About the agony I faced at the Rome airport on August 24th night (between 8:00 and 9:30pm), anyone who is keen can verify with the Leonardo da Vinci airport police.]

Response 9: Lee Bell, September 4, 2004

You think may be the US cares enough about this guy [Kantha] to add his name to the
list of thousands we already have to keep an eye�?

There was no accusation [from Kantha]. You don't know that there is no good reason for the name on the list. There may, in fact, be more than one person with the same name somewhere in the world. You don't even know that the guy [Kantha] on whom the posting was about doesn't deserve to be on the list. [If] you want to know about the list, file a freedom of information request with the government.

The people that financed and carried out the events of 9-11-01 were good residents until they killed a load of US citizens. Your buddy [Kantha] isn't a US citizen. He may have been a resident.

Response 10: Lee Bell, September 4, 2004

Here's a clue. The US isn't allowed to check thoroughly. If Sri Lanka says put them on the list, they go on the list unless there's reason to believe the name does not belong there. Note, it's a name, not a person, that's on the list. If you don't like that, talk to Sri Lanka. Don't blame the US for something you don't even know the source of.

Response 11: Fly Guy, September 4, 2004

If Joe Hijack's name is on the list, and the real Joe Hijack steps up to the ticket counter and is told he can't fly (and minutes later he is hustled away by authorities) then have we just stopped a hijacking? Does it matter? I don't think so. If the above were to happen, then, like I said, the Bush administration would be spreading the news that a �wanted� terrorist was captured due to their skillful leadership in this post 9/11 era. The fact that this hasn't happened tells me that either the NFL is designed to placate the insurance industry regarding airline liability, or the NFL is a smoke screen, designed to be well known to the flying public (and potential bad guys) and keep bad guys away from airplanes (rather than catch them at the ticket counter). Like gate security screening was once largely a smoke screen (to make most people, including bad guys, believe that since carry-on screening and metal detector arches exist then they must be effective).

If this is the reason, then that would explain why the list is never published - because it �doesn't� contain the names of any real terrorists, but it does contain just enough names to trip up a few people who we find out about through the media. And to kick it up a notch, they make it so that even Ted Kennedy gets tripped up by the list. The intent here is to send a message to �bad guys� that the list is very tough and unbiased. The Kennedy incident guarantees that the NFL gets broad media exposure so most potential bad guys now know it exists.

The question is not whether I'd like to have a terrorist sitting next to me. The question is whether having a NFL in it's current (arbitrary, hideous, in-flexible) form is either effective or a good trade-off in security vs inconveinence for those who are falsely identified. I put the odds at vanishingly close to zero that the list actually works at intercepting would-be hijackers. The logic that to stop using the list means that on the very next flight there will be a hijacker sitting beside me is absurd, and panders to the same sort of fear-making machine that the Bush administration has used to blanket the US since 9/11.

Response 12: Frank F. Matthews, September 4, 2004

It's not the screening so much as the incompetent way in which it is being done. In this day of IT, the concept that they cannot manage to identify regular hits which have been cleared is ludicrous. Bothering an individual more that once or twice is unacceptable. Let them protect us but require that they be competent.
Response 13: Matt, September 4, 2004
I agree completely. I like the general idea of having a no-fly list, but they need to fix it so innocent people aren't unfairly harassed.

Response 14: Fly Guy, September 4, 2004

The real value of the NFL is to repel would-be hijackers and add one more layer of complexity for them to think about when (or if) they plan to commit some act against or on a plane. That's in addition to baggage screening and the now ultra-sensitive gate screening. If a would-be hijacker knows there is such a thing as a NFL, and it makes him/them think twice about their ability to pull it off - to the point he/they abort the attempt - then the list has accomplished it's job - and it did so without actually being functional and/or knowing the real or fake names of the would-be hijacker(s).

The NFL doesn't have to work, or be legit, or have a �customer-service� mechanism and staff behind it. It just has to be known to exist by the public at large. Throw in a few big fish that get tripped up by it (like Ted Kennedy) to insure the existence of the list gets wide media exposure.

It's a smoke screen - like gate screening was prior to 9/11. Now why it has to complicate the lives of so many flyers with false positives, that's clearly not necessary unless the powers that be are not yet convinced that there is wide public knowledge of the NFL and they need more media stories about the list before they alter the list to reduce the false positives.

It's a common tactic to make the enemy believe you have some capability when you really don't. Like the urban legends that there are anti-aircraft batteries on the roof of government buildings like the White House or Pentagon, or like the NSA has the ability to intercept, decode, filter, and understand all manner of public and private electronic communications. The no fly list is another example of such a false capability.

Response 15: Fly Guy, September 5, 2004

I'd be for a no fly list if:
1) The number of entries or names on the list is publically divulged.
2) The nature or reason why each name is on the list is publically divulged.
3) The number of names that belong to US citizens is publically divulged
4) If any name on the NFL belongs to a US citizen, then by law the gov't (or agency maintaining the NFL) must make a continuous and competent effort to find or contact that person and (a) inform them they are on the list and tell them why, and (b) give them legal recourse to challenge their inclusion on the list.
5) A bullet-proof mechanism exists to eliminate repeat false-positives, preferrably by entering specific additional information at the gate or at the ticket counter when confronted with the false-positive person such that that person will never trigger the NFL again.

Items (1), (2) and (3) do not require that the names themselves be publically divulged. Tell me why a no-fly-list with any or all of the above characteristics would degrade the performance or effectiveness of the current list.


Among the 15 responses provided above, one correspondent with the user name Fly Guy presents an opinion in Responses 2 and 11, that �NFL is designed to placate the insurance industry regarding airline liability�. There may be some food for thought on this point. In Response 2, Fly Guy has asserted �I bet Lloyds of London (and the world-wide insurance syndicate) is behind the no-fly-list. They've probably made it mandatory for there be such a list as a condition for them to continue to provide liability insurance for the worlds� air lines�. Could there be a hint here why the Japan Air Lines is not enforcing the No Fly List � as of now? Could it be that, the Japan Air Lines � as typical of many things Japanese � wouldn�t be that big of a customer of the Lloyds of London, like the Singapore Air Lines? To prevent unwanted seepage, Japanese would prefer to have their insurance business within their own Japanese insurance company circle.


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