from the the-public-will-never-achieve-‘need-to-know’-status dept

Tim Cushing
Tech Dirt
February 14, 2014

Our government lies.

No-FlyThis is an obvious statement but it needs to be put out there in black and white. We, the people, are represented and “protected” by a government that actively lies to its constituents to cover up its mistakes. The recent case of Rahinah Ibrahim, who was accidentally placed on the government’s “no fly” list and only removed after a long legal battle, illustrates this truth about our government to a sickening degree.

FBI Special Agent Kevin Kelley marked the wrong box on a single form and locked Ibrahim out of air travel for nearly a decade. The government’s refusal to even examine Ibrahim’s case dates back to 2005, during the the Bush Administration. By the time the case was reinstated by a federal appeals court, the screw up wasn’t even a screw up. Thanks to intersecting agency databases, Ibrahim’s name, even though removed from one “no fly” list was now permanently tainted by ‘terrorism” associations. Bureaucracy succeeded in accomplishing one thing: retconning a paperwork flub into canon. According to the government, Ibrahim deserved to be on this list. When pressed, it would cite “terrorism,” the argument-ending word deployed most frequently by government officials over the last dozen years. When pressed further, officials would simply refuse to discuss it, invoking the holiest of non-denial denials, “state secrets.”

David Kravets at Wired has collected several of the deflections deployed by government officials in order to bury Ibrahim’s case — an error so easily fixed, yet ultimately so damaging to the person Agent Kelley consigned to the ranks of terrorism suspects by checking the wrong box.

Note that these are the more pernicious (and more frequently used — especially when it comes to national security issues) form of governmental lying: the refusal to confirm or deny accusations.

“My assertion of the state secret and statutory privileges in this case precludes defendant or any other agency from making any response, including through document production or deposition testimony, that would serve to disclose classified information regarding plaintiff or any other individual; the sources, methods, and means by which classified information is collected; and information which would confirm or deny whether information regarding plaintiff or any other individual is in NCTC’s TIDE database.” — James Clapper, director of national intelligence, April 23, 2013.

“Public disclosure of the identity of individuals on the No Fly List or Selectee List would compromise the safety and security of passengers by providing terrorists with information that may reveal which of their members have been compromised, and which of their members may board an aircraft without any form of enhanced security. For these reasons, TSA’s regulations expressly prohibit the disclosure of the contents of Security Directives and Emergency Amendment…” – Joseph C. Salvator, Transportation Security Administration then-deputy assistant administrator for intelligence, May 22, 2006.

There are more, but these are the most indicative of the national security mindset. Eric Holder’s deferral to “state secrets” in 2013 was based on the belief that a single disclosure, especially if it prompted more, would lead to terrorists gaming the no-fly list. John Tyler, then-attorney for the DOJ, claimed in 2006 that Ibrahim’s complaint was so inextricably intertwined with the utility of the “no fly” list that her case should be dismissed.

According to these statements, being mistakenly placed on the “no fly” list is just something those wrongly blacklisted will have to deal with. These citizens (and other foreigners) just need to resign themselves to the fact that they won’t be boarding planes, possibly for the rest of their lives. Once you’re on the list, you’re on it. The list is apparently so crucial to national security that even admitting it may have blacklisted someone accidentally would turn the nation’s airports into terrorist playgrounds.

A mistake was made made, but rather than looking for a solution, the government grabbed its “state secret” broom and swept it under the “neither confirm nor deny” rug.

The government cannot be so beholden to its own inflated terrorism fears that it willingly punishes a person for nearly a decade because of a paperwork error. There’s plenty of middle ground between keeping the country safe and screwing someone over because an agent couldn’t follow a form’s instructions. But that’s not the way our leaders, representatives and those beyond our limited power (the ODNI, for example) see it. To them, it’s binary. It’s all or nothing. Discussing the status of one person the government can “neither confirm nor deny” is on the list is portrayed to be as damaging as opening the entirety of the “no fly” list to public scrutiny.

The fear has destroyed the reality. Terrorists are supposedly one small step away from another attack on the US, even if billions of pieces of collected data have yet to result in the prosecution of these supposedly omnipresent attackers. The machinery — some public, some private — that thrives on this false narrative has managed to subvert due process, privacy and a variety of other constitutional “niceties” in its quest to create a lucrative, endless War on Terror. All objections are greeted with 9/11 / Boston Bombing rehashes and endless pages of retractions.

The machinery lies. The government lies. And those caught between the gears of both entities are ignored, lied to and buried underneath pages and pages of black ink and official denials.

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