Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Professor who criticized Bush told added to terrorist 'no-fly' list

"I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list," he said.

When inquiring with a clerk why he was on the list, Murphy was asked if he had participated in any peace marches.

"We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," a clerk said.

Murphy then explained that he had not marched, but had "in
September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the
Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the

The clerk responded, "That'll do it."



Whatever said...

Counterpoint from James Taranto, editor, opinionjounal at the WSJ:

Left-wing blogs have been abuzz for a couple of days over a post by Mark Graber, a professor of law and government at the University of Maryland. Graber prints a story he received from Walter F. Murphy, a professor emeritus of jurisprudence at Princeton who now lives in New Mexico, about a bad experience Murphy had last month with airport security in Albuquerque. Murphy alleges that the treatment he received was politically motivated.

How credible is this claim? As luck would have it, Kip Hawley, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration visited The Wall Street Journal's office this morning, so we showed him a copy of Graber's post. Here is Murphy's story, as reprinted by Graber, with Hawley's explanation of what happened:

On 1 March 07, I was scheduled to fly on American Airlines to Newark, NJ, to attend an academic conference at Princeton University, designed to focus on my latest scholarly book, Constitutional Democracy, published by Johns Hopkins University Press this past Thanksgiving.

When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years.

According to Hawley, the only list a passenger might be on that would prevent him from boarding a plane is the "no fly" list. Since Murphy did ultimately get on the plane, he self-evidently was not on that list. Hawley says it is possible that someone with the same name was on the list; such an error befell Ted Kennedy in 2004.

More likely, though, Murphy was a "selectee"--chosen for heightened security by a process that is part random, part based on a variety of factors, most of which are not publicly disclosed, but which are known to include holding a one-way ticket and purchasing a ticket in cash.

This has happened to us on numerous occasions. If you have ever had a row of S's appear on your boarding pass, and been taken out of the main line at the security checkpoint to have your bags searched, it has happened to you as well. Selectees, Hawley explained to us, are not allowed to check in at curbside but must go to the ticket counter, as in Murphy's case.

Murphy's tale continues:

I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said.

There are two problems with this. First, federal terrorist watch lists are compiled not by political appointees but by career professionals at the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, who, according to Hawley, would balk at any effort to list people for political reasons. Second, airline clerks have no way of knowing why a passenger is a selectee or on the no-fly list; they know only that he is. If the clerk actually said what Murphy claims he did, he was either joking or expressing his own (ill-informed) political opinion.

As we said, Murphy was allowed on the plane:

After carefully examining my credentials, the clerk asked if he could take them to TSA officials. I agreed. He returned about ten minutes later and said I could have a boarding pass, but added: "I must warn you, they=re [sic] going to ransack your luggage." On my return flight, I had no problem with obtaining a boarding pass, but my luggage was "lost." Airlines do lose a lot of luggage and this "loss" could have been a mere coincidence. In light of previous events, however, I'm a tad skeptical.

It is true, Hawley said, that TSA agents open the luggage of all selectees (the word "ransack" seems another case of the clerk editorializing). As for Murphy's suspicion that his lost bag on the otherwise trouble-free return flight was taken as some sort of political retaliation, Hawley says: "Give me a break."

Hawley added that if Murphy wishes to file a complaint about the treatment he received, he can do so online through the Homeland Security Department's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

But if Murphy's account of the facts is accurate, what happened here was out of the ordinary only inasmuch as the airline clerk--not a government employee--made a sensational and untrue claim, a claim that Murphy himself was eager to believe:

I confess to having been furious that any American citizen would be singled out for governmental harassment because he or she criticized any elected official, Democrat or Republican. That harassment is, in and of itself, a flagrant violation not only of the First Amendment but also of our entire scheme of constitutional government. This effort to punish a critic states my lecture's argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could.

Murphy isn't the only one who was eager to believe it. Here are some other comments:

Andrew Sullivan: "Just a heads up about what these people [the Bush administration] are up to."

Josh Marshall: "Given who Professor Murphy is, I have no doubt this is an accurate account of his particular experience. And it would seem that the people who actually work with the list on a daily basis treat it as a given that the most innocuous and obviously protected forms of criticism of the Bush administration routinely get you on the watch list. That pretty much confirms the truth of what most of us would probably have thought was a harebrained conspiracy theory. Doesn't this deserve more scrutiny?"

Matt Stoller: "This Murphy chap sounds like a smart fellow, but he also sounds like someone who profoundly lacks empathy for the situation of others. And those that are shocked by his situation, and at this point there shouldn't be very many of us reading this blog that are, should open our eyes and begin to wake up to what other cavalier violations of civil rights go on around us every day."

Rod Dreher: "If this account is true, and if it's true that just going to a peace march puts you at risk for being on the terrorism 'no-fly' list, I'd say Congress had damn well better hold hearings about this at once, and find out just exactly what powers the federal government are exercising against law-abiding citizens who happen to oppose administration policy. We could be deep into Nixon territory."
Now, stop and think about this: We are expected to believe that Murphy was "singled out" for his political views. But this credulous chorus of concurrence proves there is nothing singular about those views. Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Matt Stoller and Rod Dreher are among many thousands upon thousands of people who have given speeches, written articles or otherwise publicly declaimed against President Bush.

If the Bush administration were trying to stifle dissent, Murphy's experience would be typical, and Bush's harshest critics would be offering their own stories of airport-security woe--or they would be silenced. Instead, they rush to affirm Murphy's interpretation of his own experience. It is what they want to believe, even though it runs counter to their own experience.

Some people are so blinded by hatred, they're gullible enough to believe anything.

TTH said...

For me what was more interesting was what the kid at the counter said. Why would being in a peace march put someone on a no-fly list?

TTH said...

"chosen for heightened security by a process that is part random, part based on a variety of factors, most of which are not publicly disclosed..."

There have been many news reports lately of police keeping records of peace activists, even after told that it was illegal by courts. I will add those stories to the blog as I find them.

Whatever said...

You can add those stories, but there isn't any evidence linking the no fly list to political activists.

The kid at the counter was a moron, he isn't a government official, and has no idea how the list is generated.

A number bloggers fell for this story because they want to believe it true, so as to prove the hypothesis that we live in a facist state with a maniacal leadership bent on taking our freedoms and controlling us for their aims, namely big oil and the war machine.

TTH said...

You say you want evidence, then say the kid is a moron. You have no evidence he is a moron.

Maybe you fell for the WSJ article that quotes someone who says everything is good, but says that they choose people based on factors that are "undisclosed."

How can you be sure when it is "undisclosed?" You have no idea.

Whatever said...

My evidence that the kid is a moron is that he was talking about the no fly list as if he actually knew how the list was generated, which he clearly did not.

We are both right. We don't know how the list is generated.