Friday, August 20, 2004

The staggering incompetence of Homeland Security

The New York Times > National > Senator? Terrorist? A Watch List Stops Kennedy at Airport
Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said...

... Mr. Kennedy said his situation highlighted the odyssey encountered by people whose names had mistakenly appeared on terrorist watch lists or resembled the names of suspected terrorists on such lists. In April, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government on behalf of seven airline passengers who said they had wrongly been placed on no-fly lists or associated with names on the lists and could not find a way to clarify their identities.

In Mr. Kennedy's case, airline supervisors ultimately overruled the ticket agents in each instance and allowed him to board the plane. But it took several weeks for the Department of Homeland Security to clear the matter up altogether, the senator's aides said.

Just days after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called Mr. Kennedy in early April to apologize and to promise that the problems would be resolved, another airline agent tried to stop Mr. Kennedy from boarding a plane yet again. The alias used by the suspected terrorist on the watch list was Edward Kennedy, said David Smith, a spokesman for the senator...

Asa Hutchinson of the Department of Homeland Security, who was testifying at the Senate hearing, said his department was working to address the situation. He said travelers with such problems should contact the ombudsman at the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security, who would help them take steps to clarify their identities.

"There is a process to clear names," said Mr. Hutchinson, the department's under secretary for border security. "But it does illustrate the importance of improving the whole system, which we are very aggressively working to do."

On Monday, Mr. Hutchinson told Congress that Homeland Security officials planned to take over the checking of names of passengers against the no-fly lists. The responsibility is now carried out by the airlines, to ensure that terror suspects do not board airplanes and that law enforcement officials are promptly notified of potential security risks...

Reading this, I was transiently speechless. I even exclaimed out loud.

What staggering incompetence.

Not incompetence of the airline agents -- they were obeying orders.

Not even the remarkable incompetence of the airlines. That's only "remarkable", not "staggering".

The staggering incompetence of the Department of Homeland Security. Even if terrorists agreed to only use unusual names (Edward Kennedy is not an unusual name), and even if they agreed to not change them, still this wouldn't work. John Faughnan is an unusual name, last time I looked (before this type of search was no longer free), there were thousands of us.

What thundering idiots. The body governmental is decaying from the top.

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