I made it a point to arrive very early at the airport. My reservation was
confirmed before I left home. I went to the electronic kiosk and punched in
my confirmation number to print out my boarding pass and luggage tags. Another
error message appeared, "Please see agent."
I did. She took my Texas driver's license and punched in the relevant information
to her computer system.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said. "There seems to be a problem.
You've been placed on the No Fly Watch List."
"I'm afraid there isn't much more that I can tell you," she explained.
"It's just the list that's maintained by TSA to check for people who
might have terrorist connections."
"I'm afraid so, sir. Here's an 800 number in Washington. You need to
call them before I can clear you for the flight."
Exasperated, I dialed the number from my cell, determined to clear up what
I was sure was a clerical error. The woman who answered offered me no more
information than the ticket agent.
"Mam, I'd like to know how I got on the No Fly Watch List."
"I'm not really authorized to tell you that, sir," she explained
after taking down my social security and Texas driver's license numbers.
"What can you tell me?"
"All I can tell you is that there is something in your background that
in some way is similar to someone they are looking for."
"Well, let me get this straight then," I said. "Our government
is looking for a guy who may have a mundane Anglo name, who pays tens of thousands
of dollars every year in taxes, has never been arrested or even late on a
credit card payment, is more uninteresting than a Tupperware party, and cries
after the first two notes of the national anthem? We need to find this guy.
He sounds dangerous to me."
"I'm sorry, sir, I've already told you everything I can."
"Oh, wait," I said. "One last thing: this guy they are looking
for? Did he write books critical of the Bush administration, too?"
I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the
official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing
I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000
Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that
screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they
have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000.