Court Says FBI Agent's Wrong Checkmark Put Woman On No Fly List, Barred Her From The US For 10 Years
from the ouch dept
In fact, the ruling highlights that this is all due to one FBI agent totally fucking things up back in 2004 -- and not even realizing he had done so until his deposition a few months ago. Alsup makes clear (and it seems everyone agrees) that the FBI agent, Kevin Michael Kelley didn't screw up maliciously, but he simply misunderstood the directions in filling out the form:
Agent Kelley misunderstood the directions on the form and erroneously nominated Dr. Ibrahim to the TSA's no-fly list [redacted]. He did not intend to do so. This was a mistake, he admitted at trial. He intended to nominate her to the [very long redaction]. He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form. He made this mistake even though the form stated, "It is recommended the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases."And from that one screwup, basically a bureaucratic mess appears to have followed, and even if she was removed from that list (as is suggested elsewhere), once her name got into a series of connected databases, she effectively became toxic, and no one would allow her back into the US. So even though everyone now admits that she posed no threat to national security, when she applied for a visa to come back to the US, not only was it rejected, but the reason for the rejection was given as the code for "terrorist activities" (8 USC 1182 (a)(3)(B)) -- and to make matters even more insane, someone at the State Department helpfully scribbled "terrorist" on the form that was sent to her denying her entry.
Given the Kafkaesque treatment imposed on Dr. Ibrahim, the government is further ordered expressly to tell Dr. Ibrahim [redacted] (always subject, of course, to future developments and evidence that might [redacted]). This relief is appropriate and warranted because of the confusion generated by the government’s own mistake and the very real misapprehension on her part that the later visa denials are traceable to her erroneous 2004 placement on the no-fly list, suggesting (reasonably from her viewpoint) that she somehow remains on the no-fly list.Given that she should be told something, it seems utterly bizarre that what she should be told must be redacted.
It is true, as the government asserts as part of its ripeness position, that she cannot fly to the United States without a visa, but she is entitled to try to solve one hurdle at a time and perhaps the day will come when all hurdles are cleared and she can fly back to our country. The government’s legitimate interest in keeping secret the composition of the no-fly list should yield, on the facts of this case, to a particularized remedy isolated by this order only to someone even the government concludes poses no threat to the United States. Everyone else in this case knows it. As a matter of remedy, she should be told that [redacted].
The victory here is the first legal success in getting someone off of the no fly list, but it likely has limited use elsewhere, unfortunately. The case specifics are pretty narrow, and Judge Alsup makes it pretty clear that the government has a right to keep secret databases in which it forbids people from boarding airplanes. He notes that other cases will come along to take on those other issues, and we're sure to pay attention to them as they come up.