Unlikely Suspects

Document Date: December 28, 2009

Many innocent individuals have already been caught up by our government’s bloated watch lists, as well as others that highlight the ridiculous degree to which these lists are bloated and overinclusive. Here is a sampling:

James Robinson had security clearance as a US Attorney but he consistently receives additional screening at the airport when traveling.

Erich Sherfen, Commercial airline pilot and Gulf War veteran, has been threatened with termination from his job as a pilot because his name appears on a government watch list, which prevents him from entering the cockpit. He has been unable to get his name removed. Sherfen is a client of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a household name all over the world, nonetheless is listed on the U.S. watchlist and needs special permission to enter the United States.

UPDATE: Mandela has been removed from the watchlist by an act of Congress. Unfortunately, that is not a solution that average people can rely upon.

Robert Johnson60 Minutes interviewed 12 men named Robert Johnson, all of whom reported being pulled aside and interrogated, sometimes for hours, nearly every time they go to the airport.

Alexandra Hay, a college student with a double major in French and English at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2004, when she joined an ACLU lawsuit due to problems she was having with the airline watch list.

Sarosh Syed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan working for the ACLU of Washington in Seattle also had problems flying. (Syed was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004.)

9/11 Hijackers. While certainly these were individuals we all wish had been watched out for, they are, in fact, dead. Yet, the names of 14 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were on a copy of the list obtained by 60 Minutes . More evidence that the list is poorly maintained and full of junk names that will only serve to ensnare the innocent.

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. Name found on list obtained by 60 Minutes .

Saddam Hussein. Although he was imprisoned in Baghdad and in U.S. custody at the time, his name was also found in the database obtained by 60 Minutes. Again, this accomplishes nothing except ensnaring the innocent, diluting the list, and wasting the time of security workers.

Gary Smith. Another name that is extremely common in the United States, found on the no-fly list by 60 Minutes.

John Williams. Yet another common name found on the airline watch list by 60 Minutes.

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.) After repeated delays at airport security, the senator had trouble getting removed from the airline watch list despite calls to Homeland Security and eventually a personal conversation with the Secretary of DHS.

Representative John Lewis (D, Georgia). Being a hero of the Civil Rights Movement isn’t enough to keep off the aviation watch lists, apparently.

Akif Rahman, founder of a computer consulting company from suburban Chicago, was detained and questioned for more than two hours by U.S. customs officials on four separate occasions when crossing the Canadian border. On one occasion he was held for 5 ½ hours, shackled to a chair, and physically searched. He was also separated from his wife and children (who were forced to wait in a small dirty public area without food or telephones). A U.S. citizen born in Springfield Illinois, Rahman is being represented by the ACLU of Illinois in a lawsuit over this treatment.

Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown was blocked from flying while on his way home from an 8-month deployment in Iraq. He was listed as a suspected terrorist due to a previous incident in which gunpowder was detected on his boots, most likely a residue of a previous tour in Iraq.

Asif Iqbal, a Rochester, NY, management consultant and University of Texas graduate who flies weekly to Syracuse for business, has been weekly detained and interrogated by local law enforcement because his name is shared by a former Guantánamo detainee (who was himself released from the extrajudicial detainment, presumably because of lack of evidence of terror involvement).

James Moore, author of a book critical of the Bush Administration, Bush’s Brain ; problems flying.

Catherine (“Cat”) Stevens, wife of Senator Ted Stevens (R, Alaska). Problems flying.

Yusuf Islam, a singer and pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens. Author of song “Peace Train.” His flight from London was diverted and forced to land in Maine once the government realized he was aboard, and he was barred from entering United States.

Major General Vernon Lewis (Ret.); a recipient of the Army’s highest medal for service, the Distinguished Service Medal who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, Lewis had problems flying.

Captain Robert Campbell, US Navy-retired, Comercial Airline pilot of 22 years; problems flying.

David Nelson. Attorney David C. Nelson (right) is one of many men named David Nelson around the U.S. who have been caught up on the list, including a former star of the television show “Ozzie and Harriet.” (Nelson was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004).

John William Anderson, age 6; problems flying.

Among those caught up by the no-fly list are many infants and small children.

Rep. Don Young, (R, AK); problems flying.

Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary for education. Sister McPhee sought redress and removal from the watch list for nine months in 2004 and 2005 and it wasn’t until she was able to elicit help from White House connections (Karl Rove) that DHS addressed her problem.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, D-CA; problems flying.

Michelle Green, Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force . (Green was also a plaintiff in the ACLU suit in 2004.)

[1] “Follow-up Audit of the Terrorist Screening Center,” Audit Report 07-41, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, September 2007, p. iii; online at

[2] “Audit of the US Department of Justice Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Process,” Audit Report 08-16, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, March 2008. online at

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