The Washington Times - August 1, 2008, 01:18AM

By P. Jeffrey Black


In typical government fashion, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blaming somebody else for problems it created.

As reported in USA Today, and shown on CNN this week, the TSA is telling airline ticket agents to keep their mouths shut and not to inform passengers that they are on the TSA terrorist watch list, or the airline they work for will be subject to a $25,000 fine if they do.

This seems to be a semantics word game TSA has been playing recently, especially after CNN reporter Drew Griffin reported that he found himself on the TSA’s terrorist watch list soon after doing a report that was critical of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

When grilled by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee recently in a congressional hearing, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff stated, “It is not my understanding that the reporter was put on the list, he may share the name with someone who was put on … we do have circumstances where we have name mis-matches.”

But wait, if there were “mis-matches” of the names, then Drew Griffin and all of the other passengers on the terrorist watch list wouldn’t be complaining.  The problem is, their names are matching the names on the watch list –– not mis-matching.  If Secretary Chertoff cannot even understand this basic concept, then we are all in trouble.

But in the end, even Chertoff stuck to the typical TSA canned response that Drew Griffin the reporter was not on the terrorist watch list, but that Drew Griffin the terrorist was.

And this begs the question:  If Drew Griffin the reporter is not on the terrorist watch list, then why is Drew Griffin the reporter treated like Drew Griffin the terrorist every time he goes to the airport?

The answer is obvious. TSA is purposely obscuring the meaning of “on the watch list” as a way to avert attention from the fact that TSA doesn’t have a system in place that can differentiate the real terrorist from the harmless passenger with the same name.  So when Drew Griffin presents himself to a ticket agent, his name pops up as being on the list.  The ticket agent then informs Griffin that he is on the terrorist watch list — figuratively speaking — but not literally speaking.

Both Griffin and the ticket agent are intelligent enough to know that he is not actually the real terrorist on the watch list, but that his name matches the name of the terrorist on the watch list.  After all, when was the last time you heard of a real terrorist being caught at an airline ticket counter handing over his identity papers?  

But TSA is now publicly claiming that passengers cannot grasp this concept, so the government needs to step in and protect the passengers from their own hurt feelings by telling them that they aren’t really on the terrorist watch list — just their names are. 

According to TSA spokesperson Ellen Howe, the government wants to “make sure they aren’t alarming people and telling them they’re on a watch list when they aren’t.”

Does everybody feel all warm and fuzzy now?

Does the TSA really believe that when a ticket agent tells a passenger they are “on the terrorist watch list,” that the passenger truly believes they are being mistaken for the real terrorist? Unfortunately, its the managers in the TSA who are not grasping the concept of reality here.  

Its not that the passengers are getting alarmed and having their feelings hurt when they are told “your on the terrorist watch list,” but instead, passengers are getting pissed off because they are being forced to prove that they are not the terrorist that is on the watch list. 

All of these watch-listed passengers are guilty until they can prove their innocence. And in a country where our Constitution says you are innocent until proven guilty, one can understand the grief that is coming from all of these passengers.

In a nutshell, TSA is suspending the Constitution when you go to the airport even before you enter the secured area, and if you don’t like it, tough, then don’t fly.

So how is TSA dealing with this problem of passengers having the same names as the “real” terrorists?  Their solution is to threaten and gag the airline ticket agents from telling the passengers “you are on the terrorist watch list,” and to punish any of those mean and insensitive ticket agents who hurt your feelings. Problem solved. 

So instead of being told by airline ticket agents that you are on the terrorist watch list, you will now be told the new government directive that “you are not on the terrorist watch list” — but of course you still must prove that you are not the real terrorist that is on the watch list. 

You can’t make this stuff up folks.

In a recent Congressional hearing, TSA Secretary Kip Hawley stated, “We will not tolerate anyone saying to a member of the public that you’re on a watch list. That undercuts the credibility of the system.”

Well the last thing anyone wants to do is undercut the credibility of the TSA’s terrorist watch list, so the next time Drew Griffin goes up to the ticket counter, he will probably hear the following from the ticket agent:

“Mr. Griffin, it is my duty to inform you that you are not on the terrorist watch list, but you do have the same name as a terrorist who is on the watch list.  So basically we are going to treat you as if you were the terrorist on the watch list –– but I want to be very clear Mr. Griffin — you are not on the terrorist watch list.  You will not be able to print a boarding pass from your home, nor will you be able to check bags at the curb or use the kiosks for easy check-in, and you will be delayed while we go through every inch of your checked baggage.  But be assured Mr. Griffin — you are not on the terrorist watch list.  But before I can allow you to board one of our airplanes, I’ll need to see 10 forms of identification, get your fingerprints, take a retinal scan, and you’ll need to surrender one of your hairs on your head for a DNA test — but these are just precautions we are taking only because –– you are not on the terrorist watch list Mr. Griffin.  And lastly, please sign this liability waiver form that you understand that you are not on the terrorist watch list, and that no employee from this airline has ever told you that you were on the watch list –– but that you agree to be treated just like the terrorist that is on the watch list.  Now please proceed to the TSA checkpoint for your secondary screening pat-down, strip search and cavity check, while the TSA screener informs you that –– you are not on the terrorist watch list.  Have a great flight Mr. Griffin.”