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No flys on these guys
October 5, 2006 12:14 PM   Subscribe

What does everyone called Gary Smith, John Williams or Robert Johnson have in common with Saddam Hussein, the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, the President of Bolivia, and the dead 9/11 hijackers? They're on the No-Fly List, that's what, even if they're babies. But the 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year. They were deliberately left off the list. in case it fell into the wrong hands.
posted by unSane (65 comments total)

 
As if Osama bin Laden would fly Delta anyway.

If he did, I'm sure he'd use the name Robert Johnson. Since Osama is a mean blues man.
posted by ?! at 12:20 PM on October 5, 2006


I read the first phrase and Thought that what they had in common was that they played the guitar, and then my jaw hit the desk.

I pretty sure this list started out in the wrong hands.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2006


If he did, I'm sure he'd use the name Robert Johnson.

He might use the name 'Tim Osman'.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:29 PM on October 5, 2006


From the article: "I did see Osama bin Laden, both with an "O" in the first name and "U" in the second…I was glad to see that. But some of the other names I see here…I just have to scratch my head and say, 'My God, what have we created here?'"

Outrageous! Non-Muslim-sounding names? The list is flawed!
posted by Plutor at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2006


But the 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year. They were deliberately left off the list. in case it fell into the wrong hands.

But that's okay, seeing as they didn't have passports or a viable plan.
posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2006


If you sell your soul to the devil (or Darth Vader), you don't deserve the same privileges as the rest of us. This is just George Soros stirring up muck before the election.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2006


Plutor
Outrageous! Non-Muslim-sounding names? The list is flawed!


The list is flawed because it's a stupid fucking idea in the first place, not because it has anglo names on it.
posted by unSane at 12:36 PM on October 5, 2006


As I keep saying, this administration is not interested in fighting terrorism. They now have ALL the ingredients of a police state; controlled borders, ability to forbid people to fly, and the ability to point a finger at you and disappear you any time they like.

The reason the no-fly list is so ineffective is because it's not about terrorism at all.

America, as a free country, is gone. And people argue vehemently with me that it was the right thing to do.
posted by Malor at 12:37 PM on October 5, 2006 [3 favorites]


Did they ask John Williams to compose himself and is that when all the trouble started?
posted by hal9k at 12:37 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is the money quote right here:

"Well, Robert Johnson will never get off the list," says Donna Bucella, who oversaw the creation of the list and has headed up the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center since 2003. She regrets the trouble they experience, but chalks it up to the price of security in the post-9/11 world. "They're going to be inconvenienced every time … because they do have the name of a person who's a known or suspected terrorist," says Bucella.

So if I called the FBI from a pay phone and made an anonymous report that I had overhead someone say that someone named Donna Bucella was going to hijack an airplane, what would happen? Seriously?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2006


so what do we do now Malor?
posted by Max Power at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2006


So much for Schindler's List.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2006


Using those three names and google I was able to find Al Qaeda's home page in about a minute:

http://www.rock-archive.de/indexd.html

Sure it looks innocent, but hidden in black on black writing (How much more black could this be? None more black!) it has those three names in a long list.

Someone at Homeland Security should look into the other names: Cat Stevens, Dixie Chicks...
posted by justkevin at 12:42 PM on October 5, 2006


"They're going to be inconvenienced every time … because they do have the name of a person who's a known or suspected terrorist," says Bucella.

So these are indispensible
posted by riotgrrl69 at 12:44 PM on October 5, 2006


A few links that should have made it into the FPP:

Police Chief Gary Smith
Congressional candidate Robert Johnson
Bush's Brain author Jim Moore
Jesuit priest John Dear, Rev. John F Shaw, Michelle Green, David Nelson, Rebecca Gordon, Jan Adams.
posted by unSane at 12:48 PM on October 5, 2006


Oh dear god.

So all the people they've been harassing and double and triple searching are the guys we're NOT actually worried about? This just underscores that the No-Fly list is a joke, meant to make people feel that something's being done to make them safer, but with no actual worth.


Look, the list is a stupid stupid stupid idea, but it's trivial to put match names to a list without making it easy to determine the names on the list.

This is precisely how standard linux passwords work: the password itself isn't stored; instead, the result of a one-way transformation of the password is stored. When a user wants to log in, the password he types is transformed the same way, and if the two transformations match, it means to two un-transformed passwords are the same.

This can be TRIVIALLY done. TSA has had five years to do it. WTF?
posted by orthogonality at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2006


FaintOfButt
So if I called the FBI from a pay phone and made an anonymous report that I had overhead someone say that someone named Donna Bucella was going to hijack an airplane, what would happen? Seriously?


You'd be put on the No Fly List... obviously.
posted by unSane at 12:50 PM on October 5, 2006


OK - there have been a lot of false positives. But how many actual suspected terrorists have been snagged using the list?
My search so far has turned up none.
posted by speug at 12:55 PM on October 5, 2006


The greatest idiocy is that this list should include some basic visual description, like approximate height and age. So people can be quickly be eliminated as suspects.

"Ah," you say, "but the terrorists are cunning and will disguise their height and age!"

This is true, but if they are sophisticated enough to do that, then they are certainly sophisticated enough to travel under a false name. ffs.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 12:57 PM on October 5, 2006


There is a very good reason not to put people you're actually watching on the No Fly List, since one attack involves sending potential hijackers on dummy missions to see which ones are on the No Fly List and which ones aren't, then only using the ones not on the list.

It's a fantastic Catch-22... if the No-Fly List works, we can't put the real terrorists on it.
posted by unSane at 12:57 PM on October 5, 2006


I can understand a list of names that might get extra screening, but to have a flat out no fly list which can include common names, or anything that the list maker wants to include is idiotic.
And really.. a passport should count as your security identification yes?
The whole TSA has very quickly become a beurcratic nightmare, with very little accountabiliy and oversight.
So what we have here are multiple systems trying to do the same thing none of which are particularly effective.
posted by edgeways at 12:58 PM on October 5, 2006


Are these procedures designed to thwart only the absolute dumbest and ill-equipped of terrorists?
posted by psmealey at 12:58 PM on October 5, 2006


I'm still dumbfounded by this. So, This was someone's idea of an acceptable technical solution???!!!??? Good Lord!

We are a lot closer to the world of Idiocracy than, I think, many of us realize.
posted by psmealey at 1:02 PM on October 5, 2006


Are these procedures designed to thwart only the absolute dumbest and ill-equipped of terrorists?

This is what goes without saying. If someone is intelligent, AND eager to blow themselves up, you CANNOT be confident of stopping them, ever, without first destroying exactly what the terrorist wants to destroy - your way of life. Life in a free society has an inherent danger. An inherent occasional terror. Declaring war on it in this way is merely a recipe for ensuring perpetual war.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 1:05 PM on October 5, 2006


Clearly Robert Johnson is on there because he struck a deal with the devil when he went to the crossroad...
posted by clevershark at 1:05 PM on October 5, 2006


The best part is that there's a bunch of guys who are known to be dead that are on the list. The 9/11 hijackers, that is. So if they come a-lurching up to the checkpoint and say, "UUUNNNNNGGGGGHHH! BRAINS!", they won't be permitted on the aircraft, regardless of what is written on their baggies.

Take that Islamo-Zombies!
posted by Mister_A at 1:08 PM on October 5, 2006


That "a" tag is certainly going to come in handy in the future when looking for this post.

How about replacing the last several with the batshitinsane tag?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:09 PM on October 5, 2006


It must be very frustrating for Saddam Hussein to fly nowadays.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:10 PM on October 5, 2006


Hey no offense intended Astro Zombie.
posted by Mister_A at 1:11 PM on October 5, 2006



no-fly.xls:

John Smith: OK
Howard Dean: EVIL!!!
Mark Foley: OK EVIL!
Rush Limbaugh: BAG SEARCH
Vin Tan Doucetteirrion: ??? SOUNDS FORIEGN. SEARCH ANYWAY
Edward Kennedy: HARASS
Tony Soprano: OUTSTANDING WARRANTS NJ
Dick Hertz: OK
Amelia Earhart: SUICIDE PILOT! DETAIN
Mike Hunt: OK
Bob Johnson: OK
Bobby Johnson: OK
Robert Johnson: EVIL
Rob Johnson: OK
Bobby Jo Johnson: NO ALCOHOL
posted by StarForce5 at 1:12 PM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


They were deliberately left off the list. in case it fell into the wrong hands.

Yea, because the EEEEEEVVVVVILLLL Doers won't know they are considered EVIL and wanted men/women.

They are trixsy, those government workers.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:12 PM on October 5, 2006


No offense taken. It's no use placing Astro Zombies on the no-fly list, by the way, as Astro Zombies are undead pilots and can fly their own goddamn planes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:14 PM on October 5, 2006


Superman don't need no plane.
posted by leftcoastbob at 1:20 PM on October 5, 2006


Doesn't need a wheelchair anymore either,
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:21 PM on October 5, 2006


Are these procedures designed to thwart only the absolute dumbest and ill-equipped of terrorists?

Possibly they are not intended to thwart anyone, but merely to give the appearance of security. That seems to be the case with an awful lot of airport security dumbassery.
posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on October 5, 2006


Ernie - OK
Bert - No Fly
posted by isopraxis at 1:49 PM on October 5, 2006


So now that this list has been leaked to 60 Minutes, is there somewhere that your average American citizen might be able to find it in its entirety?
posted by Greg Nog at 1:49 PM on October 5, 2006


Kip Hawley is an idiot.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:50 PM on October 5, 2006


This doesn't really bother me that much, since I don't fly. I can get anywhere I want to go by driving a U-Haul truck. No one seems to be checking those.
posted by wabashbdw at 1:53 PM on October 5, 2006


Just you wait until they fire up the No Drivee Uhaulee list.
posted by unSane at 1:58 PM on October 5, 2006


I think the main purpose of things like the no-fly list and some of the object restrictions has more to do with 'giving the appearance of doing something' rather then, you know, actually doing anything. It's also a way to cow the public and scare them, make them think the threat is worse then it is.
posted by delmoi at 2:00 PM on October 5, 2006


I agree Delmoi; this is security theater and nothing more. I am waiting for the third act, wherein the haughty Kip Hawley gets his comeuppance
posted by Mister_A at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2006


It's also a way to cow the public and scare them, make them think the threat is worse then it is.
posted by delmoi


Worse than that, it's a way to get people used to standing in line to have their possessions x-rayed and searched. For their own good, you know.
posted by leftcoastbob at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2006


Name?
Robert Johnson.
Ok, sir, I’m afraid we will have to pull you out of the line, you’re on the no fly list.
I mean Dave Phillips.
Oh, ok, sorry. Go right ahead then sir.

It’s important to note, that the Great Wall of China - perhaps the largest most obvious security measure in the world was built not to keep invaders out, but primarially to keep people in. (In part, to keep invaders from leaving with booty, but still)

Yes, this is a control tool by the feds. (And as useful as the maginot line).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:29 PM on October 5, 2006


Don't ask me how I know this, but the no fly list is in fact an XLS file. Okay ask me how I know. Well okay, you forced me. The lead programmer who worked on that "project" is such a dumbass, he applied for a job after implementing this "system" where he constantly bragged about how he interfaced excel with ms access to allow serialized access (one at a time) to the "NO FLY LIST" spreadsheet. I was truly scared of how incompetent this person was and how his only redeeming quality was a security clearance (which ofcourse foreigners like myself can never get).
posted by trol at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2006


Worse than that, it's a way to get people used to standing in line to have their possessions x-rayed and searched. For their own good, you know.

I have no objections to that. It's a sensible precaution and actually works, and had it been properly implemented in America we probably wouldn't have had 9/11 (I have clear memories of wandering through American airport security back then and thinking WTF? Was that it?)

What i object to is the silly shit, like this list and the liquids ban.
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on October 5, 2006


Don't ask me how I know this, but the no fly list is in fact an XLS file.

Ooh, I wonder if it's sitting in an open directory somewhere!
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:56 PM on October 5, 2006


The No Fly List Monitoring Site includes a large amount of redacted PDFs issued in response to the ACLU's challenge. It contains a lot of very interesting information. Just scanning at random I found that in 2002 the No Fly List was 41 pages long. There is also a separate 'Selectee' list which identifies passengers who should be given extra screening because of a 'possible connection to terrorism'.
posted by unSane at 3:30 PM on October 5, 2006


Anything to keep babies off planes is OK by me. Infants, with their high-pitched squealing noises, are the real terorists. I mean, really, where does a 6-month old need to get to. Let them stay where they are. They don't need to go on 'oliday. What are they doin'. All they do is 'ang about. Get rid of 'em.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:33 PM on October 5, 2006


Artw writes "I have no objections to that. It's a sensible precaution and actually works, and had it been properly implemented in America we probably wouldn't have had 9/11"

You do know that there is video of at least two of the 9/11 hijackers getting pulled aside, searched, and then left to board their plane(s), right?
posted by clevershark at 4:01 PM on October 5, 2006


...and they still had fucking stanley knives when they got there.

Sorry, that's not a proper search.
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on October 5, 2006


Artw
Sorry, that's not a proper search.


Well, what IS a proper search? Should every passenger be strip searched?

As a rule of thumb, one should always assume that any government program (intentionally or unintentionally, it doesn't matter) does exactly the opposite of what it says on the box.

This is standard marketing practice: you don't sell a Mercedes on quality, but price. Everyone knows it's a good car, but people think it's expensive, so you stress its affordability. Conversely, GM sells its cars on quality, not price. We know they're cheap, but we worry that they're put together like shit, so GM tries to reassure us.

So whenever someone tries to sell you something, whatever they stress as its strong point is in fact a weak point.

You see where I'm going with this.

Solve for:

-- no fly list
-- patriot act

etc
posted by unSane at 5:12 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Small knives like that were permitted then and should be permitted now.
posted by Mitheral at 5:38 PM on October 5, 2006


Considering the various times that people have been in the news for being on the no-fly list, has anymore made a page with the known names on it? I would think one way to make more people aware of it is keep a running log of all incidents that make the news. If your name is on the list it is going to piss you off whether you fly or not.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 7:22 PM on October 5, 2006


Small knives like that were permitted then and should be permitted now.

Interesting. I'd assumed that the crappy security missed them, not that the crappy security actually allowed for them.

You cna hurt yourself quite badly on one of those, not a good idea to allow one on a plane. (as opposed to: nail files, corkscrews, disposable razors, various other banned but but basicaly not very harmful items)

And my opinion of your pre 9/11 security remains that it was scarily crap.
posted by Artw at 7:36 PM on October 5, 2006


In other news: "President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department's reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists."
posted by homunculus at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2006


Jesus, and just when I thought my opinion of Homeland Security couldn't get any lower...
posted by dhammond at 8:04 PM on October 5, 2006


Let's hear it from the unhinged liberals down at Business Week
MAY 11, 2005

The Terror Watch List's Tangle
The goal was to be a master database pooling information on terror suspects. The result: A litany of technical glitches and red-tape follies

blind data dumps instead of actual police work = Protecting America™
posted by matteo at 6:28 AM on October 6, 2006


(and by the way here's hoping that Bucella is not the same Bucella who as a US Attorney almost fucked up the entire Oklahoma City bombing investigation. because, really, that would be so ironic)
posted by matteo at 6:30 AM on October 6, 2006


Artw writes "You cna hurt yourself quite badly on one of those, not a good idea to allow one on a plane."

Sure, but you can no longer hijack a plane with one. Why ban them on planes? Security theatre rather than actual security.
posted by Mitheral at 6:47 AM on October 6, 2006


orthogonality: Look, the list is a stupid stupid stupid idea, but it's trivial to put match names to a list without making it easy to determine the names on the list.

This is precisely how standard linux passwords work: the password itself isn't stored; instead, the result of a one-way transformation of the password is stored. When a user wants to log in, the password he types is transformed the same way, and if the two transformations match, it means to two un-transformed passwords are the same.


Well, you are sort of wrong and sort of right. The problem with your scheme (and the Linux one), is that if you have a name (password) in mind, you can also on-way encode it and check it against the encoded list. This is how a dictionary attack works. This is mitigated a little by using a salt, but only really slows down the process (it requires a re-encoding of the dictionary for every entry, slow, but no big deal for a few names)

So, if the list fell into the wrong hands, they would just encode the names of all the yahoo's working for/with them and check it against the list to see if they are on it. A little more technical sophistication, but well within the realm of do-able, especially with some outside help (which they sometimes have).

I have another idea: Locate and arrest those suspected terrorists, try them and get the name off the list.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:51 AM on October 6, 2006


matteo writes "blind data dumps instead of actual police work"

You know sometimes I wonder if this kind of thing isn't intentional. Some fool who wouldn't know good security measures from a hole in the ground comes to you and says "We need a list of the names of everyone you think might be a terrorist or has a grudge against the goverment, both generally and ours specifically. We're going to use this list to stop them from flying".

You, being an educated security professional, know that not only is this list not going to increase security; it is going to be able to be manipulated for political gain and petty harrassment (EG: Senator Kennedy). You being a smart guy think to yourself, "Self, this isn't right. If we do a good job at this useless list no one is going to be effected but Muslims and gays and other outsider groups that the populous doesn't care about. Instead lets give them a data dump that includes new borns, octagenarians, politicians and every one named John. That way enough regular Americans will be effected that a protest will be raised. If enough people protest I may be spared maintaining this useless program in the future."
posted by Mitheral at 7:00 AM on October 6, 2006


Mitheral, you may have something there.

The first few times I flew after 9/11, I was pulled out and searched every single time I flew. When I asked about it, the nice TSA lady said, "Honey, your name sounds like an alias. Get used to getting searched."

Since then I've been searched at least 70% of the time I've flown. Apparently because my parents were unimaginative, I could very possibly be a terrorist.
posted by teleri025 at 7:16 AM on October 6, 2006


Worse than that, it's a way to get people used to standing in line to have their possessions x-rayed and searched. For their own good, you know.
posted by leftcoastbob

I have no objections to that. It's a sensible precaution and actually works, and had it been properly implemented in America we probably wouldn't have had 9/11
posted by Artw


I do have objections to that. As I stated, I think that it's a way for the government to accustom people to stand in line and look on as their possessions are being searched.

I'm not just talking about standing in line at the airport in your stocking feet. I'm talking about walking down the street and being stopped and asked by a duo of government officials for your papers and to take a look into your backpack. In the interest of security. For the good of the country. And then people such as yourself saying stupid shit like, "It's a sensible precaution and actually works."
posted by leftcoastbob at 7:35 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


What does everyone called Gary Smith, John Williams or Robert Johnson have in common

They would all disappear if this actually happened.
posted by homunculus at 1:04 AM on October 8, 2006


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