Terrorist Watch Lists And My Family


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According to the TSA, my Mom is a suspected terrorist. Until very recently, so were my husband and son.

There are some that might joke about that being the price we pay for being Irish (a country with a fine history of home-grown terrorism) but I disagree. To me, the extra screening and sometimes aggressive questioning only points to inadequacies in the security systems which we’re all relying on to protect us from terrorist activities.

The FAQ on the TSA website explains the difference between the No Fly List and the Selectee List. But nowhere, ever, does anyone explain how you get off the list. In fact, it seems impossible. Once, frustrated by yet again not being able to use online check-in for my husband and younger son, I asked the agent at the check-in desk for advice. I was given a form and told I could submit the form, but that since the name match would re-occur, it was unlikely that doing so would do any good. Lovely.

The New York Times described the security screening experiences of Mikey Hicks, an eight-year-old from New Jersey who is also on the selectee list. A frightening way to treat a child by any definition. When you’re an adult from another country who is on that same list, your experience is not much better. Take my Mom for example, she was taken aside for secondary questioning in Atlanta in April 2009: Her passport was taken and she was held in a room patrolled by armed guards (with other people) while she waited to be questioned. She was terrified.

My mom’s planned trip was to visit her new grandson in Mexico. Initially her request for a transit visa was denied because she was on a TSA watch list. Not wanting to skip such an important life experience, she went to the American Embassy in Dublin and secured herself a 10-year tourist visa. A day later, she was allowed to board her flight, allowed to land in Atlanta and then held afterwards for questioning. Talk about a perfect example of agencies not sharing information – and as the Christmas Day bombing attempt shows, not much has changed since.

On that trip, my Mom was also held for questioning when she flew home via Atlanta two weeks later. Obviously showing that in April 2009 it took over two weeks for data to be shared between the U.S. Department of State (who issues visas) and the Department of Homeland Security. I can tell you that by October – when she transited through the U.S. again – she wasn’t held for secondary screening. Whew! Only five months to share data. We can all relax now.

For our most recent trip, I was able to use online check-in for everyone in our family and no-one was held for additional screening. Why? We registered for NEXUS cards early last year. Seemingly, if you’re willing to pay an additional $50 (each) and volunteer for background checks, the TSA will trust you and take you off their watch lists. Maybe Mikey Hicks’ parents should try that. Or maybe we should all start lobbying our respective representatives in congress to stop spending money on people to who do little except take away our toothpaste tubes and start spending money on building world-class passenger profiling systems.

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About wandermom

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven I'm not sure I've ever consciously planned a trip based on this sentiment, but it definitely influences my subconscious! I've been traveling as frequently and widely as possible since I finished school. And I love it. I love the research, the planning, the fervent packing and the curiosity of exploring somewhere I've never been before. My husband & I are both Irish - as in born-in-Ireland. But we live in Seattle. We have two boys: wild, boisterous, regular boys. So, since becoming a Mom, I've been a WanderMom. Given our slightly-unusual family situation, routine "visits-to-Grandma" are international trips requiring passports, 10hr-flights and (oh joy!) airport transfers. I have rants, raves and opinions about how, where & why to travel with kids (start them as young as you can, I say!). I hope to learn even more by researching topics which other wandermoms may be interested in reading about on this blog. Passports, pacifiers, diapers and gameboys at the ready - off we go! Contact Info: Email Michelle: michelle (at) murphnduff (dot) org

8 thoughts on “Terrorist Watch Lists And My Family

  1. Quickroute

    WOW! – That is terrible – How did your peeps end up on the watch list? – I remember getting the 3rd degree a few times while travelling back into the UK during the height of the troubles but thankfully never ended up on a watch list. That level of inefficiency between agencies doesn’t surprise me – even though that was supposed to have been addressed after 9/11

  2. Pingback: Terrorist Watch Lists And My Family – WanderMom | Drakz Free Online Service

  3. Anne

    My brother, Robert Campbell, is also on the “watch list” along with a pilot of the same name. For years the justice department has promised to remove him from the list but never does. Flying is a huge ordeal for him as well.

    Since they can’t spend a second of time removing him from the list I have no confidence our government will ever get a handle on terrorism.

  4. Bebemiqui

    This is simply the result of the government being an entity that is too big and complex. On a smaller scale I’ve seen this play out in the Delta/Northwest airline merger and my guess is much of the government’s issues stem from the same problem. The 2 airlines have separate contracts w/ 2 computer companies that developed their ticketing software and check-in programs. They signed a contract w/ one system having not discussed it enough to realize they’d picked the company who’s system is outdated and much harder to do things efficiently. Now all employees on the other (easier) system are having to learn this complicated system and (because they signed a contract) everyone has to take twice as long to get anything accomplished in ticketing and check-in. I say all this because these 2 airlines (which I believe are smaller in scope than the TSA) merging has taken over a year of training and wrangling to merge and there are still a lot of hoops to jump through.
    I’m sure there so many hoops that are either regulated or contracted into the government agencies communicating that it’s amazing that anyone’s off the list. What they need is their own special government internet or something.

  5. Wanderluster

    Thanks for sharing Michelle.

    They probably can’t provide information about who’s on a list because these agencies probably don’t know themselves.

    Great idea about NEXUS. I wonder how in depth they go into one’s background and how strict their requirements are to get through that program? Rhetorical question.

    The program’s broken and it’s unlikely to be fixed unless there’s A LOT of pressure from consumers (let’s all boycott flights for a day!).

  6. Coach Hire

    And we still say, we are safe in this world, I am an expat working and residing here in London UK, Once I have/had a chance to meet an Irish lady that has been traveling via air from Dublin to London and she has been screened around 15 time she says, which makes no sense at all, Now she used coach hire and minibus hire service and she is safe :)

  7. Heathrow Airport Transfers


    I agree, screening is causing a huge trouble but without being a man I am going to say, this has improved our business as a matter of fact :), now people travel from one city to another using taxi hire or car rental service and I meet number of people daily that has planned to never travel via air again….That is a shame.



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