Readers Write: Who's Watching the Watch List?
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John Graham's incisive AlterNet story of July 7, Who's Watching the Watch List? provoked a rash of intelligent reader responses.
The piece is Graham's personal account of being delayed from boarding a plane because his name was found on the government's Transportation Security Authority (TSA) "No fly" list -- of people "who posed, or were suspected of posing, a threat to civil aviation or national security."
With frustration and disillusionment, Graham -- who must fly frequently for his work as president of the nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project -- explores the possible explanations for his inclusion on the seemingly arbitrary list... and comes up empty-handed.
A former US diplomat, Graham once worked for the government -- but that was back in 1980. "With no real information to go on, I'm left to guess why this is happening to me," he writes. "The easiest and most comforting guess is that it's all a mistake...But how? I'm a 63-year-old guy with an Anglo-Saxon name."
After playing a few infuriating rounds of trying-to-reach-a-human on TSA's automated help line, Graham is instructed to send in selected proofs of his identity. Then he's forced to wait it out for 45 days while the group investigates the reasons for his flight delays.
Our readers had a lot of thoughts on Graham's story, ranging from rage to paranoia to commiseration. A few folks commented on having traveled down the same "No fly"-sparked road -- such as Jessie BC, who writes, "I'm on the list too. Right now, I'm only Orange, so I can still fly. But in the years since September 11, I've watched my security status increase. Last time I flew, TSA informed me I'm now Orange, but of course wouldn't tell me why and I have no clue. I have to go through all kinds of crap to get on a plane now, including (because my front-clasp bra hooks set off the wand) having a TSA agent reach up under my shirt."
Reader Erinachara also reports embarrassing experiences with the TSA: "I've waited the 45 days, and here's what TSA had to say in a non-personalized form letter: 'We are pleased to report that upon further review of the information you have presented, we have determined that the delays you have encountered do not result from being mistaken for an individul on a TSA watch list.'
HUH? Does that then indicate that I experienced delays because I am actually on the list?"
Erinachara continues, "Even before I was forced to give up curb and kiosk check-in, I experienced being publicly humiliated by TSA agents at the security station, and knew that resistance, or response of any kind, placed me in jeopardy of arrest... This is NOT the USA where I grew up and was educated. Our government has begun to accelerate down the road to a fascist state."
A reader named Cyclone concurs with the notion of fascism: "Too late to wake up now, the party's over. I hope all the dumb asses that voted for the fascist party are happy with what they have created. Everyone that posts on this website is watched, I can guarantee that."
Hmm... OK. A little paranoia never killed anyone, right? A few freaked-out readers don't seem to think so -- such as Royrogers, who refers to yesterday's bombings in London: "In...Hitler's time [people said] 'they came for the Jews, but I wasn't a Jew, so I said nothing...' That's what's going on in the US RIGHT NOW!!!!! Do you not think it is possible that this attack in London is the event the powers that be have been waiting for to clamp down even more?"
The idea that our government is taking turn after turn for the worse is echoed by other readers, including Dmffood, a self-described 56-year-old grandmother whose "only weapon is [her] voice."
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" she writes. "We (as a nation) are more interested in Brangelina, and the latest (un)reality t.v. show. We are bamboozled by the latest version of the Romans' 'Bread and Circus' ploy. Keep the people fed and entertained, and they will fiddle while the Constitution burns.
"I am continually amazed by people who say that after 9/11 we have to sacrifice some personal liberties to keep the country safe. We are now the land of the monitored and the home of the scared shitless. Liberty comes at a high price, our founding fathers understood this. Most of the signers of the Dec. of Independence died penniless or at the hands of the British for their timerity.
"We have to take our country back, and it will be a battle. I am willing to be on whatever 'watch list' my vocal opposition puts me on."
Channeling anger into action -- and dismantling a corrupt government state by state, candidate by candidate -- is suggested by the uber-practical Uklibcat, who writes, "As much as sharing the pain and horror stories may be cathartic, the only way to change things is to work state by state, district by district to recruit sane, electable candidates and then replace the weasels that are passing these laws and supporting the Bush agenda. There's not going to be any coup, revolution, or impeachment to change things. If it didn't happen in the 60/70s, it won't happen now. Just the revolution at the ballot box; and it sure better happen in '06 or it may be too late."
Lindie agrees: "We shall all have to speak with our neighbors and friends -- it will be difficult, but we must speak out...We must stand against the government's 'anyone who doesn't agree with us is our enemy' policies, or our nation is lost.
My sympathies to everyone on the list -- you'll not be able to get off unless the current cretins in office are removed."
Reader Tonya points us to the ACLU's lawsuit against the no-fly list, and admits, "I'm willing to undergo additional security procedures if those procedures are actually making us safer, but the no-fly list is not. The list is something like 88 pages and has thousands of names. Meanwhile, commercial cargo that travels on passenger planes is still not screened at all. The chemical and nuclear plants are still unsecured as well."
Laura Barcella is AlterNet's front page editor.