More hearings, please

You can get on the %$#&ing Terrorist Watch list by delivering an anti-Bush lecture? Even if you’re a retired colonel in the Marines? This is too easy.

[THE BASIS OF THIS POST IS SUBJECT TO SERIOUS QUESTION. SEE UPDATE BELOW. DOWNGRADED FROM “PROBABLE OUTRAGE” TO “SUSPICIOUS INCIDENT.’]

You can get on the f@%&ing Terrorist Watch List by delivering an anti-Bush lecture?

Wait. It gets better. The victim is a retired Marine Colonel and a distinguished professor of political science who opposes Roe v. Wade and supported the Alito confirmation.

No, wait. You haven’t heard the best part. The conference Prof. Col. Murphy was trying to fly to was on one of his books. The title of the book is …

Go ahead. Guess. Take three guesses. (Answer at the end.)

Let’s see, TSA falls under the jurisdiction the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i, the House Homeland Security Committee (Bennie Thompson of Mississippi), and the House Government Reform Committee (Henry Waxman of California, who already has a full plate). (The Senate combines Homeland Security with Government Affairs, under the chairmanship of a Republican who would eat a sh*t sandwich, if Bush handed it to him, and call it chopped liver.)

If I were running a Congressional investigation, I’d start with the case of Prof. Murphy, and work out from there. Find out who was working that airport that day for TSA, and verify the story. Then take the good Professor’s &#8212 oops, that’s “Col. Murphy’s” &#8212 testimony (in uniform, if it still fits) along with that of the airport-level official if you can find him.

Having established a basis, then subpoena the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Administrator of TSA. How did Col. Murphy’s name get on the list?

Let them explain that the process is classified. OK, here’s a non-classified question: is there any reference in your files to Prof. Murphy’s lecture? No, Mr. Secretary, I’ll be damned if I understand how a yes-or-no answer to that question could convey dangerous information to our enemies. Answer the question, please. Yes, or no? How about you, Mr. Hawley? Will you answer the question? Yes or no? Privacy? Horsepuckey! Col. Murphy has given us a written waiver for the disclosure of any private information. Will you answer the question?. Yes or no?

Then work out from there. Have committee staff (suitably cleared, of course) paw through the files, looking for outrages. There will be plenty.

Played right, this is absolutely no-lose for the Democrats. Everyone who flies hates the TSA. Lots of people have heard about Teddy Kennedy’s being on the No-Fly list. Combine rudeness and incompetence with gross civil-liberties violations, and you have yourself a nice set of hearings.

Oh, I almost forgot. The title of Prof. Col. Murphy’s book is Constitutional Democracy.

No, really. Could I possibly make this up?

UpdateWell, maybe not.

1. Ryan Singel of Threat Level doubts it. Turns out there are two lists: the “No-fly” list, which means you’ve been identified as a threat to aviation and can’t ever get on an airplane, and the “selectee” list, which means you can’t check in on line and get extra scrutiny at the airport.

2. Prof. Murphy wasn’t pulled out of line on his return trip. That suggests he wasn’t on the “selectee” list, which ought to mean extra screening every time.

3. I read Prof. Murphy’s letter too quickly. He sources the claim that he’s probably on the list for some anti-war or anti-Bush activity to an airline clerk, not to a TSA official. It seems unlikely that an airline clerk would know.

4. If he is in fact on the list, that might be the result of sharing a name with an actual terrorist (presumably an IRA soldier) with the same name. Apparently that was the Teddy Kennedy story.

5. Yes, it’s possible to appeal to get your name off the “selectee” list if it’s there by mistake.

I was willing to believe the story in part because I’ve heard both from a former perpetrator and a former victim that people at the Customs Service could and did put people they disliked on a special list that got their luggage searched every time they came back into the country. And it’s still possible that TSA is in fact playing games.

If I were on one of the relevant Congressional committees, I’d still want to have some hearings about the “name’s-the-same” problem, about the appeals process, and about controls on the abuse of the lists. But I’d now bet against, rather than for, the proposition that Prof. Murphy’s case represents bad behavior on the part of officials, as opposed to a random screening and a dimwit comment by an airline clerk.

H/t: Orin Kerr

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com