New Blog Details The Unfortunate Experience Of Being On Homeland Security's Terrorist Watchlist

from the the-S's-stand-for-'stupid' dept

You don’t have to be affiliated with any known terrorist group to be added to the government’s terrorist watchlist. The Intercept’s publication of the numbers behind the massive amount of people the government’s keeping an eye on made that perfectly clear. A full 40% of the list — 288,000 people — are there without any particular justification. The agencies making these nominations clearly can’t articulate why certain people should receive enhanced searches and questioning each and every time they seek to board a domestic flight. But they nominate these people anyway, using something no more scientific (or counter-terroristic) than a hunch.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes has a great profile of (not-very-anonymous-after-all) blogger Peter Young, who has received the dreaded SSSS designation from the TSA. Ringing up 4 S’s means every TSA agent thinks you’re a terrorist and every visit to the airport means extra patdowns and questioning. Young has been detailing the humdrum existence of your everyday terrorist over at his blog, “Jetsetting Terrorist,” where he notes that his decidedly non-terroristic appearance causes the consternation and confusion at smaller airports where 4-S designations are few and far between. Not that being a jetsetting terrorist doesn’t have its upsides…

He discovers some of the hidden benefits of being labeled a terrorist: his boarding pass is a ticket to the front of the security line. He realizes he can turn the confusion over his flying status into a free flight and drink vouchers.

He also speculates as to why those on the terrorist watchlist aren’t allowed to sit by emergency exits.

Terrorists hate humans so much we would physically block exit points in the event of a crash and/or fire.

They make you do that weird verbal confirmation thing after the fight attendant recites that exit row speech, and we’re known for only speaking Arabic.

The TSA just likes making stupid rules vacant of any rationale.

“Stupid rules vacant of any rationale” aptly describes a large swath of the Terrorist Watchlist, including Young’s 4-S status, which prevents him from utilizing technological advancements like checking in electronically using a mobile device or a kiosk.

As far as Young can tell, it’s a nearly two-decade-old misdemeanor that’s keeping him from traveling without additional molestation.

His full time job is running an online business, but he is also a prominent animal activist; the latter is what garners him the extra TLC from the TSA. The property crime for which he was convicted dates back to 1997 when he went on a cross-country road trip freeing minks from fur farms in three states. His weapon of mass destruction was a pair of bolt cutters. On the lam for a number of years, he was apprehended and tried in 2005, and found guilty of “animal extortion terrorism.”

“Animal extortion terrorism” isn’t covered under the guidelines for the Terrorism Watchlist. In fact, Young was only ever convicted of a misdemeanor (pleading down from a felony) and served on two years for his federal crime. But that’s still enough to make him a feared traveler, one who is never to be trusted, not even 17 years removed from the “crime spree” that first drew the government’s attention. While the prosecutor tried to connect Young with a group the DHS actually recognizes as domestic terrorists (the Animal Liberation Front), it didn’t stick. Young denies any connection with the animal rights extremists.

There’s another reason Young is blogging about his experiences: this very public outing of his TSA-stained laundry makes it that much tougher for the US government to simply “disappear” him, air travel-wise.

According to the Intercept, there were 16 people on the No-Fly list in 2001; in 2013, it had exploded to 47,000. “I’m worried the government will slowly move people from the Selectee list to the No-Fly list,” Young says. “I want a podium to speak from in case that does happen to me.”

As has been noted here, the No-Fly list is an unconstitutional joke. The “redress process” is so horribly ineffective that a court actually declared it to be a violation of Americans’ civil rights. The Terrorism Watchlist is not only broader, but it’s possibly more damaging. While it won’t actually prevent you from flying (provided you don’t mind every trip to the airport being the Full TSA Security Theater Experience), it does open your life up to a whole lot more government scrutiny.

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

This is from the same rulebook and documents that admitted that nearly 300,000 of the 680,000 people on the government’s Terrorist Watchlist have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” Just another ridiculous facet of the Dept. of Homeland Security’s security theater: loading up on unrelated “extras” just so it can boast it has a “cast of thousands” (and demand a budget of billions!). No terrorism experience necessary. Enjoy your flight!

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Comments on “New Blog Details The Unfortunate Experience Of Being On Homeland Security's Terrorist Watchlist”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Honestly, it’s really nothing new. I’ve got a friend that was adopted when he was probably 2 years old that gets the special treatment every time without a criminal record. The problem, he was born in North Korea. We usually head up to Canada every year for a camping trip and one of the few things they ask is where were born, even though he’s got a valid passport, driver license, and everything else.

Nim the Invincible says:

Animal extortion terrorism

A quick google of this turns up Mr. Young and PeTA.

As ridiculous as his situation seems to be it smells a bit put up and seriously releasing minks into the wild (where they mostly die) is stupid.

I guess I just think that absolutely everyone involved in this story is stupid, Mr. Young the TSA, DHS other alphabets the real solution here is to not let any of them fly or interact with society at all.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Animal extortion terrorism

There are animal and environmental rights groups that engage in actual terrorist actions (bombing forest service offices, spiking trees, etc.) I don’t know if this guy was in such a group or not, but this highlights one of the problems with the “terrorist” label (and therefore the no-fly lists). Groups like ALF are technically terroristic — but they have very narrow and specific targets. None of these groups would do something like hijack or bomb a commercial airline. So putting them on a no-fly list isn’t making anyone safer at all. It’s purely punitive.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: Animal extortion terrorism

If you consider tree spiking terrorism then you have to admit that law enforcement is terrorism, it is the forcing of people to conform thru fear, the state is terrorism.

This story demonstrates that, but everyone involved is still stupid.

Would you change your mind if your house was robbed? How would you react to something like that?

mcinsand (profile) says:

If freeing minks gets 4S ratings...

What about being a member of AARP? The average American faces far more risk every day as a result of AARP than from any self-declared terrorist group. Anytime discussions begin that might increase scrutiny over renewed drivers licenses (permits to control thousands of pounds of metal on any significant speed on a road), the AARP opens the lobbying floodgates to defeat any proposed legislation. Guys, our driving requirements are a joke, and we have too many unqualified drivers on our roads at any age. However, because of AARP, clamping down on unqualified drivers is far more difficult.

So, if Hill gets a 4-S, then any member of AARP certainly should!

Anonymouse says:

“The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database. “

I now will make sure to load my camera with pics of my junk and trunk for this database and Law enforcement perusal. Thank you Techdirt for giving me another weapon in the war on our rights. Or least something to snicker over on the flight.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Spying on US Citizens

What he should do next is have a file on his phone/laptop called “Super-Duper-Secret_Evil_Plan_Bomb_White_House.txt” (no password of course) and write out a fake plan to bomb the white house (one that would never work in reality).
Then at the end say something along the lines “If you’ve read this far and still believe that this a genuine plan to bomb the white house, and that I must be detained as a terrorist ‘mastermind’…then you are just fucking hopeless”.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Spying on US Citizens

i’m not sure you are catching on to the ways of Empire, citizen…
1. the rules will change or be made up to suit THEIR purposes, not yours…
2. there are plenty of ‘catch-all’ regulations which essentially give them power to do what they want…
3. there are almost certainly various laws which forbid such actions because you are then interfering with their sacred mission, blah blah blah…
4. you don’t get it: MERE mockery of them constitutes a sort of terrorist enabling, and they will jack you up and make your life miserable, as only the feds can…

you aren’t going to outwit them, or pull some funny business to make them look like fools: they will simply tase or shoot you into submission…

because MOTHERFUCKIN’ EAGLES, bitchez…

Anonymous Coward says:

the really worrying thing is that not just the TSA know about this and do what they are so adept at doing, fucking up peoples travel plans, they cast the list over the pond to the UK and they watch for similar things there. the whole issue is nothing but a paranoid member of government/security (maybe both?) who has gotten it into their heads that there is a terrorist behind every corner!

Anonymous Coward says:

What is the "saturation point"?

Is it 18%, 62% or what? At what point are we all terrorists? The TSA will then need to start a non-terrorist list. Or have we past this point already and its a secret? We are playing silly word games, billion dollar word games with NO demonstrable positive results. Your government at work for you, or SOP.

btr1701 (profile) says:


> Young was only ever convicted of a misdemeanor (pleading
> down from a felony) and served only two years for his
> federal crime.

That makes no sense. A misdemeanor, by definition, is a crime for which the punishment is less than a year. If he served two years for the crime, then it’s (again, by definition) a felony.

Either someone got the crime classification wrong, or the punishment wrong here.

Mr Big Content says:

This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

Our freedoms are safe, not like in these foreign places. You know why? Because of the Second Amendment. The Government knows, if it ever tried to trample on any of our IMPORTANT rights, our guns would be out and trained on them like a ton of bricks.

So don’t sweat the small stuff. We can sleep safe at night, with that ultimate guarantor of our rights close at hand, under that pillow.

tqk (profile) says:


This kind of ass-hattery is what made me announce on an open forum (somewhat) recently that I will never voluntarily set foot on USA soil again. If you see me there, it’ll be because I’ve been extraordinarily renditioned. (David Bowie – Under Pressure).

Yanquis are certifiably insane (generally speaking). Their gov’t, not so generally. I’ll miss Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon especially.

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