Weekly Standard Columnist Ends Up On TSA Watch List For No Rational Reason

The TSA is up to its usual shenanigans.

TSA Uniform

Stephen Hayes, a Weekly Standard columnist and frequent Fox News commentator on terrorism and related issues, has ended up on the TSA’s Terror Watch List:

Stephen Hayes, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and a regular Fox News contributor, was informed Tuesday that he had been placed on the Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watchlist.

Hayes, who spoke to POLITICO by phone on Tuesday, suspects that the decision stems from U.S. concerns over Syria. Hayes and his wife recently booked a one-way trip to Istanbul for a cruise, and returned to the U.S., a few weeks later, via Athens.

“I’d be concerned if it was anything more than that,” Hayes said.

Hayes first learned about his status on the watchlist during a trip to Minneapolis a few weeks ago when he was stopped for extra screening.

“When I went online to check in with Southwest, they wouldn’t let me. I figured it was some glitch,” he explained. “Then I got to the airport and went to check in. The woman had a concerned look on her face. She brought over her supervisor and a few other people. Then they shut down the lane I was in, took me to the side, told me I was a selectee and scrawled [something] on my ticket.”

“On my way back. the same thing happened,” he continued. “I got pulled out, they closed down the lane, and did a full pat-down and looked in all parts of my luggage.”

Things got slightly awkward on that return flight, because one of the TSA employees was a frequent Fox News viewer. “He knew I wasn’t an actual terrorist,” Hayes explained, “but it didn’t matter.”

Hayes finally contacted Southwest on Tuesday, ahead of another flight, to ask why he couldn’t check in. A customer service supervisor told him he wasn’t going to be able to get a boarding pass before arriving at the airport.

“So I asked if I was on the government’s terrorist watchlist, and she said ‘Yes.'”

Prior to joining The Weekly Standard, Hayes served as a senior writer at National Journal’s Hotline and as director of the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University. He has written for at least a half-dozen prominent publications and has appeared on as many television news networks.

Hayes’s experience isn’t new, of course, and he’s probably lucky that he ended up on the watch list, which seems to results mostly in inconveniences like not being able to check in online and having to go through enhanced TSA screening every time you fly, rather than the “no fly” list, which means he wouldn’t be able to get on an airplane at all. Ever since the TSA was established in the wake of the September 11th attacks, we’ve seen countless reports of obviously innocent people being placed on either of these lists for reasons that seem to have no logical connection to the TSA’s supposed mission of keeping the terrorists off of airplanes. In many cases, security restrictions have meant that these people have been unable to find out why they were on a particular list, or even to confirm that they were actually on it. Even now that the TSA has developed procedures by which people can apply to have their names taken off of these lists, they continue to create problems for travels like Hayes for no rational reason.

In Hayes’s case, there apparently hasn’t been any explanation for what happened either, but I suppose the fact that he and his wife had flown one-way to Turkey might be as good a reason as any, which at least suggests that it occurred because of some automatic procedure that flags everyone who engages in such travel behavior. Nonetheless, there was nothing particularly unusual about what Hayes and his wife did here; they flew to Turkey for a cruise and when cruise ended they departed via Athens, which was presumably closer to the final destination of the cruise. Hayes and his wife can hardly have been the first Americans to take this itinerary over the past thirteen years, does this mean that all of them end up on the TSA watch list? If that’s the case then it seems like a fairly apt demonstration of just how useless these lists have become. There is merit in the idea of creating a list of people who might be potential threats to air travel and scrutinizing more closely when they travel, but when the way the list is complied results in so many false positives then it seems pretty clear that the lists have become rather useless.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I don’t know Doug, he does write for the Weekly Standard.

  2. Bob@Youngstown says:

    So, your suggestion is that the terrorist watch lists should be abandoned?

  3. MBunge says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: More specifically, Hayes rose to prominence by vacuuming up every bit of info he could and then regurgitating it to prop up the “Saddam and Osama are buddies” nonsense used to justify the Iraq War. If we have a list of people dangerous to the country, why wouldn’t he be on the list?

    Mike

  4. edmondo says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    So, your suggestion is that the terrorist watch lists should be abandoned?

    A better suggestion is that the entire TSA should be abandoned.

  5. Tony W says:

    @edmondo: Another unfortunate relic of the party of small government

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @MBunge: If we have a list of people dangerous to the country, why wouldn’t he be on the list?

    A suggestion for using “national security” to punish those whose politics you don’t like, and it gets five up-votes.

    I’d like to know if Bill Ayers, self-confessed domestic terrorist, is on the list.

  7. Yolo Contendere says:

    Maybe it’s just Karma rearing her ugly head. Live by the terrorist watch list, die by the terrorist watch list.

  8. Slugger says:

    Several popular internet news sites that allow comments are full of statements about a murder in Oklahoma currently. As long as people are that easily panicked, things like the TSA which creates a fig-leaf of security will exist. I have a friend who has a very common Mexican name which he shares with a drug-lord. He tried to convince the TSA that narcotraficantes do not travel using their real name to no avail; finally, he solved his issue by appending a Jr. to his name.

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Slugger: That is a totally stupid, transparent, and ludicrous attempt to solve the problem.

    But we’re dealing with the TSA, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it worked.

    If that stops working, maybe he should change his name to “Pablo Escobar?”

  10. edmondo says:

    @Tony W:

    Another unfortunate relic of the party of small government

    Kept in place by the man who brought us “Change.”

  11. anjin-san says:

    @edmondo:

    Kept in place by the man who brought us “Change.”

    The TSA was established by Congress. Congress continues to fund it. How is Obama “keeping it in place”? Please be specific.

  12. MBunge says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: A suggestion for using “national security” to punish those whose politics you don’t like, and it gets five up-votes.

    It’s not poltics. Hayes wrote a book about the supposed connection between Saddam and Osama in the summer of 2004. Not some rush job out right away after we invaded Iraq. The only purpose of such a book was to prop up the then-popular argument on the Right that even though there were no weapons of mass destruction, the invasion was still justified because of that supposed link.

    It was nonsense. Anyone who looked at the evidence could tell it was nonsense. This isn’t about politics. It’s about valuing the truth more than politics.

    Mike

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I’d like to know if Bill Ayers, self-confessed domestic terrorist, is on the list.

    Of course, and what about Saul Alinsky and Eric Holder?

    This incident is, basically, karma – cosmic payback for Hayes’ writing that Saddam and Obama were buddies.

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: Of course, and what about Saul Alinsky and Eric Holder?

    They never committed acts of terrorism like Ayers.. Unless, of course, we’re speaking metaphorically, like how The Usual Gang Of Idiots here likes to refer to the Tea Party and other conservative groups.

    This incident is, basically, karma – cosmic payback for Hayes’ writing that Saddam and Obama were buddies.

    In this case, “karma” has a (D) after its name.

    And by the way, Saddam was a fugitive long before Obama rose to national prominence, and dead well before he became president. Your comment is, to put it most kindly, sadly misinformed.

  15. anjin-san says:

    @MBunge:

    It’s about valuing the truth more than politics.

    Well, you just lost Jenos.

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Keeping the streak going, annie? How many straight comments does this make that are 100% insults to me, and 0% about the topic?

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    I discuss issues with people that have something intelligent to say. That kind of leaves you out. I will note that, considering how many times you insult others, you spend an awful lot of time whining about people insulting you.

    Please continue with Bill Ayers rant #467.

  18. MBunge says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You make yourself the topic. My initial comment about Hayes was in jest, as any reasonable person could understand. Your taking it with such dumb literalness spurs me to explain the joke.

    The problem with Hayes isn’t that he’s conservative. The problem with Fox News isn’t that it’s conservative. The problem is they contribute to the non-reality environment that is destroying conservatism and harming the country.

    Mike

  19. edmondo says:

    @anjin-san:

    The TSA was established by Congress. Congress continues to fund it. How is Obama “keeping it in place”? Please be specific.

    Specific enough for you?


    President Barack Obama stood by new controversial screening measures Saturday, calling methods such as pat-downs and body scans necessary to assure airline safety.

    “Every week I meet with my counterterrorism team and I’m constantly asking them whether — is what we’re doing absolutely necessary? Have we thought it through? Are there other ways of accomplishing it that meet the same objectives?” he said.

    under President Obama’s budget released Tuesday, less than two months after security fees on tickets went up $12 billion over a decade.

    The administration and Congress agreed in January to raise the Transportation Security Administration fee on each ticket from $2.50 per leg of a trip, capped at $5, to $5.60 each way

    President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget includes $7.65 billion for the Transportation Security Administration, which includes $2.539 billion in fee collections. The total would go down from $7.841 billion in fiscal 2012, the current fiscal year.

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ edmundo

    In other words, both the executive branch and the legislative branch are maintaining the status quo. So it’s inaccurate to say “Obama is keeping it in place.”

    Congress created the TSA. They have oversight of the TSA. They continue to fund it – Obama can put things in his budget all he wants, he does not control the $$.

    Do you want to discuss the issue, or simply blame Obama for all the ills of the world?

  21. MarkedMan says:

    I travel by air a lot. I mean a whole lot. And I hate the rituals as much as anyone. But you know what gives me pause? If you follow this as closely as I do, the last two department heads came in saying they wanted to reduce this rigmarole. And the last one was pretty darn specific about how, such as ending the liquids ban. And then something made them change their mind. If it was just basic cover-your-ass-ism, well I’m really pissed. But like I said I travel a lot and follow this pretty closely and the impression I’m getting is that they get in, start getting the daily briefings, and get scared.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @MBunge: Ah, the great liberal tolerance. It’s OK to be conservative, but not to act conservative. You can believe whatever you like, you just can’t express it.

    The watch list is supposed to be for those who are credibly believed to be a physical threat. Are you willing to make the argument that Hayes somehow poses a physical threat to his fellow passengers, or to our national security?

    Of course not. But you don’t like him, so you have no problem with the federal government using its power to punish him and deprive him of his rights.

  23. edmondo says:

    @anjin-san:

    – Obama can put things in his budget all he wants, he does not control the $$.

    That’s exactly the role of the Executive Branch. So Obama only has extraconstitutional powers when it comes to delaying or eliminating rules passed by Congress when they relate to ObamaCare, but not when they relate to Homeland Security? Is that your legal argument today? You need to go debate stonetools, he makes up a lot od shit too. You two would be fun to watch – not informative, but fun.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    Terrorism uses fear to affect politics. Hayes uses politics to create fear. Completely different beast. And far less respectable.
    It does make sense that Jenos would get his sponge- bob panties in a twist over another liar, though. Birds of a feather etc.

  25. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Wow, Cliffy. When I pointed out that a huge portion of your philosophy was that you get a happy when bad things happen to people you don’t like, even if it’s wrong, you have just gone all out to prove me right. Here’s a guy put on the terrorist watch list apparently for simply being a political opponent of the Obama administration, and you’re downright gleeful.

    All these wonderful precedents are being established for a future Republican president… I can almost hear the squeals from today’s cheerleaders.

  26. MBunge says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: It’s OK to be conservative, but not to act conservative.

    Wait. So you are saying that lying/believing things that are untrue is acting “conservative”? Promoting ridiculous theories in defense of mistaken policies that get thousands of people killed is “conservative”? Encouraging conservatives to cling to policies/viewpoints that are ultimately harmful to themselves is “conservative”?

    Is Jenos an intern on The Colbert Report?

    Mike

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Ah, the great liberal tolerance. It’s OK to be conservative, but not to act conservative. You can believe whatever you like, you just can’t express it.

    …. once again demonstrating that Conservatives are the single largest group of self-proclaimed victims in America today.

  28. anjin-san says:

    @edmondo:

    You need to go debate stonetools, he makes up a lot od shit too

    What have I made up? Please be specific.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @edmondo:

    So Obama only has extraconstitutional powers when it comes to delaying or eliminating rules passed by Congress when they relate to ObamaCare

    I know that the chicks in really short skirts on Fox have told you that Obama is a lawless tyrant who has dropped the Constitution into the oval office shredder as he defies Congress with Obamacare changes, but the truth of the matter is a little different that that fever swamp fantasy.

  30. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Perhaps you missed this bit of his previous response to you

    You make yourself the topic. My initial comment about Hayes was in jest, as any reasonable person could understand.

    You see there are these things called jokes. People tell them for comic effect and they aren’t necessarily meant to be literally true and may in fact be ridiculous. When someone explains to you that what they said was a joke and you continue to respond to it literally you become the joke.

  31. anjin-san says:

    It’s OK to be conservative, but not to act conservative.

    I am sure millions of Democrats would actually contribute $$ to the GOP if only they would act conservative (as opposed to simply ignorant and crazy)

  32. Moderate Mom says:

    I’m a little surprised that no one seems to have pointed out that Hayes and his wife’s passports would have been scanned a number of times over the course of their cruise, as they went from country to country.

    If the government can know that someone took a one way flight somewhere (needing a passport to do so) is there some reason the government can’t seem to notice that the same people were traveling to numerous countries, using said passport? Is our government really that inept?

  33. MarkedMan says:

    Moderate Mom brings up an interesting point. My passport is an absolute mess with two extra sets of pages and more stamps than I can count. I am always fascinated by the fact that in this day and age we still move from place to place with little books full of stamps and hand signed pieces of paper (visas) pasted in. This seems like a real throwback because in almost all the countries I visit they immediately scan the passport and check a database as to whether a visa is necessary, whether it has been issued, what my history is and so forth. I’m a US citizen living in China now and when I leave the US or enter into China each side thumbs through the passport for something like ten minutes looking for my current visa (there are seven old China ones in there, not to mention India, Vietnam and a couple of others). I’ve put a little tab to mark the spot, put my ticket or customs declaration there, but they immediately take it out and start thumbing through. I assume they are trying to see if I have visited some country on the ‘bad’ list.

    But for Moderate Mom’s specific observation, I suspect that a lot of countries in the world don’t share their databases and records, at least as a general rule because of sensitive information it might reveal. I’m sure the US government would be very interested to know that, say, the trade minister of Vietnam had visited Beijing twenty times in the last three months, but I am equally sure China wouldn’t want to share that information on a routine basis. And for sketchy countries, like those sponsoring or hosting terrorists, immigration control could conveniently walk shady characters through without stamps or entering them into the system. Heck, before 9/11 half the time I visited a European country they didn’t bother to stamp my passport.

  34. Tony W says:

    @edmondo: Ah, you’ve just forgotten the history of our illustrious TSA – let me refresh your memory.

    It seems one former president, your hero, he of the Texas Air National Guard who bravely engaged the enemy from his Dallas/Ft. Worth Country Club dining facility during the first Gulf War, lobbied fellow members of the party of Small Government (TM), who then controlled Congress, to create the TSA after failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks and thus attaining legendary Guardian of our Security status among conservatives of the day.

    The TSA, insufficient boondoggle that it was, persuaded our CiC of the day to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to take the fight for business traveler safety to the enemy before they took it to us (well, before they did so again).

    In my view the TSA exists primarily to erode civil service protections for federal workers and at the same time persuade us through high theatre that Something Is Being Done. When you rule by fear, you must appear to take action on occasion.

    Bottom line – Conservatives like big government just as much as Liberals do.