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
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!