Friday, October 2, 2009

Did Newark’s Mayor Really Add Conan O’Brien to the No Fly List?

Conan O’Brien recently included the following in his monologue: “The Mayor of Newark, NJ wants to set up a city wide program to improve resident’s health. The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.”

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, responded with this humorous video and jokingly informed Conan he’d been added to the No Fly list for Newark’s EWR airport.

I knew right away this was a joke, (a pretty funny one I thought) but after reading some comments around the blogosphere, it seems that some are buying this gag. First off, airports don’t operate on individual No Fly lists. The No Fly list encompasses all airports.

Also, the mayor of Newark – or any elected official for that matter - cannot add somebody to the No Fly list. It is a much more stringent process. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center has to add you to their Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), and they can’t do that unless you are known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB per the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6. (HSPD-6.)

So, if you’re not familiar with the No Fly list, you’re probably wondering what it’s all about.

From the TSA FAQ Section: The No Fly list is a list of individuals who are prohibited from boarding an aircraft. The "Selectee" list is a list of individuals who must undergo additional security screening before being permitted to board an aircraft. After 9/11 the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) was created through a Presidential Directive to be administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. The purpose for the TSC is to consolidate terrorism based watch lists in one central database, the Terrorist Screening Center Database (TSDB), and make that data available for use in screening. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies nominate individuals to be put on the watch list based on established criteria, with the list maintained by the TSC. TSA's No Fly and Selectee lists are subsets of the TSDB and are maintained by the TSC.”

The terror watch lists keep legitimate terror threats off of airplanes every day, all over the world. According to the GAO, terror watch lists have "helped combat terrorism" and "enhanced U.S. counterterrorism effort."

If you think you are on the No Fly list, let me ask you this question: Have you obtained a boarding pass? If so, you are not on the No Fly list. If you obtained a boarding pass and an airline employee told you that you were are on the list, they were mistaken. Your name was probably a match or a similar match to the name of somebody actually on the list. Have you flown? You would not be allowed on a flight if you were on the No Fly list.

This is a good opportunity for me to segue into Secure Flight. Secure Flight is a behind the scenes program that streamlines the watch list matching process. It will improve the travel experience for all passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past. In fact, Secure flight will reduce mismatched names by 99.9%.

Contrary to popular belief, Conan regulars Eyeballs O'Shaughnessy, Todd the Tiny Guy, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and La Bamba, are not on the No Fly list.

Key Takeaways:

-Mayor Booker was joking and did not place Conan on the No Fly list

-If you are able to obtain a boarding pass, you are not on the No Fly list

-Secure Flight will reduce mismatched watch list names by 99.9%


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TSA Blog Team