Who says you can't get off the US no fly list?

We all know about the US no fly list. What we don't know is what it takes to get on the list. While some people seem like obvious candidates to go on the list, many people seem to have ended up there because someone in the government just wanted to harass them. Up until now, we also haven't known what it takes to get off the list.

Well, good news. One person actually did manage to get off the list and her story is available with lots of details. (Note that she was put on it by mistake -- it is probably harder to get off the list if you were intended to be there.)

Her story is told told in an Ars Technica article.

A hearing in federal court Tuesday has apparently marked the conclusion of a drawn-out, costly, and, to use the judge’s own term, “Kafkaesque” legal battle over the government no-fly list. Malaysian college professor Rahinah Ibrahim sued the government back in 2006, after Dr. Ibrahim’s name mistakenly ended up on a federal government no-fly list.

Last month, US District Judge William Alsup ruled that Ibrahim must be removed from the government's various watchlists. At Tuesday's hearing, a Department of Justice lawyer said that the government did not intend to appeal the ruling. The ruling in Ibrahim v. DHS calls into question the government's administration of its controversial no-fly list as well as other terrorist watch lists, but it leaves no clear roadmap for other people wrongly placed on such lists.

Why do you care? If you happen to fly out of the US you may care. It seems like Dr. Ibrahim never expected to care either -- until she was the victim of a clerical error.

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Well thats good to hear

"it is probably harder to get off the list if you were intended to be there"

Sorry about the error ( and lets hope that gets tightened up) but as long as the plan is a well intentioned attempt at reducing the chances of a terrorist attack then I guess its better than just sitting and waiting.

Easy to sit in our Ivory Domes and poke and prod.

Compared to the millions of passengers that fly each year, the no fly list record on errors and omissions is still pretty good.

Two different questions

I am not questioning the wisdom of the no fly list (I certainly could but that wasn't the point of this post), just the hell someone went through to get off of it.

She was a "clerical error". She had to sue the US government and wait seven years. In a country with what they call "due process" it seems like there should be a well-defined way to at least contest something that happened to you without due process.

I Think That There

is a total of 500 US citizens on the No Fly List, a pretty small number. If you just finished attending a terrorist training camp in Yemen, you can expect to find your name on the list. For the rest of us, we'd really have to work at it.

There is a much bigger "Watch List" but I don't know the number of US citizens on that. If you're emailing the terrorist training camp in Yemen to inquire about costs, availability of slots, and what you should bring,, expect to find yourself on the Watch List.

A few things left out of the post: Ibrahim was suspected of being involved with an Indonesian terrorist group. That suspicion was probably generated by signals intelligence, hence the secrecy surrounding the hearing and the verdict being sealed. I find it unlikely that her name was simply pulled out of a hat by the FBI . . .


This could have gone either way. She could have strapped on a suicide vest and taken out a number of her fellow Stanford students. Perhaps that was the plan, and the FBI foiled it.

We'll never know..

You should fully read the article linked

And be exceptionally grateful that you are not one of those 500, if that's the case.

Quote from the judge's opinion, "At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses no threat to air safety or national security and should never have been placed on the no-fly list. She got there by human error within the FBI. This too is conceded. This was no minor human error but an error with palpable impact, leading to the humiliation, cuffing, and incarceration of an innocent and incapacitated air traveler. That it was human error may seem hard to accept — the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit — human error, yes, but of considerable consequence. Nonetheless, this order accepts the agent’s testimony."

Literally, the agent checked a box that he was not supposed to, and it took $300k and the better part of a decade to right that wrong. Another interesting tidbit from earlier in the case; this is a note from the Attorney General (AG), Eric Holder, filed on behalf of the government:

"I am advised that the Government has informed Plaintiff’s counsel of unclassified information concerning whether or not Plaintiff’s name appears on any terrorist watchlists pursuant to an attorney’s eyes only protective order. I understand that, following this disclosure, Plaintiff has moved to compel the production of classified information. As described below, the disclosure of the classified information sought by Plaintiff through her discovery could reasonably be expected to cause significant harm to the national security."

The AG attempted say that her status, even as a person mistakenly placed on the list, was so privileged that it was a national security matter and could therefore not be contested. Later admissions that she is *NOT* a security threat *directly contradict* the testimony of the AG. In fact, this is further testimony from the AG's own submission:

"Moreover, “[t]he Department will not defend an invocation of the privilege in order to: (i) conceal violations of the law, inefficiency, or administrative error; (ii) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency ofthe United States Government; (iii) restrain competition; or (iv) prevent or delay the release of information the release of which would not reasonably be expected to cause significant harm to national security.” !d. § 1(C). … Based on my personal consideration of the matter, I have determined that the requirements for an assertion and defense of the state secrets privilege have been met in this case in accord with the September 2009 State Secrets Policy."

The AG referred to his own policy that prohibits exactly the behavior that he is actively doing in writing his submission to the court. My head nearly exploded when I read that. How does the US not fire people for incompetence like this?

I Did Read The Entire

article and I understand the nature of the injustice. Incarceration seems a harsh word for her temporary detention and questioning; handcuffing is standard law enforcement procedure in just about every case; and yes, even the FBI makes (many) mistakes.

There SHOULD be recourse, and who she was, her religion and nationality, played an unfair and unfavorable role in her treatment.

She wasn't a US citizen, and her visa was just that, a visa. Beyond that she has no right to be in the US, and no reason to fly into US airspace. We all know the whimsical nature of the visa process, the Nicaraguans are exposed to it continuously, and they aren't potential terrorists.

She was not one of the 500 US citizens on the No Fly list, the number of No Fly non-citizens is much larger. It's easy to vet a US citizen; impossible in many cases with non-citizens.

>>>>" . ". .Mohamed had gone to Yemen and Somalia, two countries whose terrorist connections tend to set off alarm bells with security officials, to study Arabic and Islam . . . " so when Mohamed's underwear blows up and takes the plane with it, everyone will criticize the slip in security. I'd personally rather see Mohamed take a boat back. His underwear or shoes won't be able to sink the boat.


The No Fly List is a favorite lefty whipping post, but the number is extremely small (500 our of 330 million), and the abuses seem to be minimal. It's a fair tradeoff; who wants to get on a plane with a potential underwear bomber?

How common is that name in Indonesia?

As someone who gets mistaken for the other gringa on the block, sometime "they"/"we" look all alike to "us"/them." (The other gringa has brightly dyed red hair, speaks perfect Argentinan Spanish because she was born there, and has a Nicaraguan employee who used to be the co-worker of the people who get us confused from time to time.

Rebecca Brown