The Faces Of The FBI’s Secret Lists

posted on December 10, 2015
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (left), Leah Puttkammer/WireImage (center), Martin Philbey/Redferns (right)

While we have covered the absurdity of the new push by the Obama administration and anti-gun members of Congress to restrict gun sales to all individuals on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List, sometimes raw numbers aren’t as compelling as anecdotal evidence. So in this feature we’ll look at the real people who have fallen afoul of the government’s fight against terrorism—just a few of the million-plus individuals who would be denied a constitutionally protected right if the president gets his way. Not only are we talking about denying guns to anyone who isn’t allowed to fly—we would deny them to a group that is 20 times larger.

For the sake of clarity, there are actually three different lists that are relevant to our purposes. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database is available to multiple government agencies for the use in compiling watch lists. There are reportedly over 1 million people on the Terrorist Watch List proper, although we don’t know who most of them are. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses the Database to produce the No Fly List and the Selectee List, the latter of which subjects passengers to extra screening procedures in the airport. 

Because people on the No Fly List and Selectee List learn of their status when they run into problems trying to catch a flight, these account for most of the stories we have. But keep in mind that not only are these same individuals likely on the Terrorist Watch List as well, but they only represent a small fraction of the people on the list—the No Fly List contains something to the tune of 50,000 names. 

So, to sum up: You have a constitutional right to bear arms. You don’t have a constitutional right to fly on planes. But not only are we talking about denying guns to anyone who isn’t allowed to fly—we would deny them to a group that is 20 times larger. Without further ado, let’s examine a few of the more prominent people whose rights the president would like to remove. 

Sen. Ted Kennedy 

The most famous victim of the terrorist screening process, the late Sen. Kennedy reported in 2004 that he had a hard time boarding planes several times. It appears that he was subjected to extra security procedures because of the presence of a “T Kennedy” on the Selectee List. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) later claimed that he had never been on a list and was “misidentified,” possibly because “T” should not have been taken as standing for “Edward.” Regardless of the reason, it is telling that this response was issued four years after the fact. 

Rep. John Lewis 

This influential civil rights leader and politician reported that he had been stopped at the airport 35 to 40 times at around the same time as Kennedy, possibly as a result of also being on the Selectee List. He contacted multiple government agencies and airlines in an effort to have his name removed, but initially the TSA’s response was simply to issue a letter he could present to security—not that it would actually guarantee a stop to the additional screening processes. 

David Nelson

Former child actor David Nelson, who appeared on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” was stopped in 2002 while trying to board a plane. In this case, being a celebrity probably helped, as he was eventually allowed to board once his identity had been established. Other David Nelsons have not been so fortunate.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown 

This Marine reservist was trying to fly home to Minnesota after eight months serving in Iraq when a ticket agent in Los Angeles told him that he would not be allowed to board. Apparently he had been flagged on an earlier flight because of gunpowder residue on his boots—picked up, unsurprisingly, in Iraq.

Robert J. Johnson 

A surgeon and former Army lieutenant colonel, Johnson was informed that he was on the No-Fly List while running for office in the U.S. House of Representatives. It later came out that a number of other men named Robert Johnson had experienced problems while attempting to fly. 

Rep. Don Young

The third-most senior House Republican at the time, Rep. Young was flagged due to the presence of a similarly named individual whom the FBI deemed suspicious. 

Cat Stevens/Catherine Stevens 

The popular folk singer, who changed his name to Yusuf Islam after becoming a Muslim, was on a flight to the United States that was diverted in order to prevent him from entering the country. It was not clear whether this was a case of mistaken identity or if he was actually being monitored by the FBI. Sen. Ted Stevens later attested that his wife, Catherine—who often went by “Cat”—had encountered trouble flying because her name resembled the singer’s.

Bob Owens

Gun blogger Bob Owens of Bearing Arms tweeted that he ended up on a watch list in 2013. Our minds reel at the thought of telling that man he’s not allowed to buy guns. 

Stephen F. Hayes 

This journalist learned that he had made his way onto a watch list, probably for purchasing a one-way ticket to Turkey as part of his job. 

72 DHS Employees 

Even being employed by the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t mean you’re safe. Rep. Stephen Lynch reported that an investigation had revealed 72 DHS employees were on the Terrorist Watch List.

Now remember that most of the individuals named above were probably on one of the lists compiled by the DHS, which contain nowhere near as many names as the actual Terrorist Watch List. If you’re comfortable denying countless people like them their constitutionally protected right to bear arms, without any semblance of due process, then it’s time to face the fact that you’re part of the problem.

Use Your Power!

Contact your representatives in Congress today. Remind them that you oppose secret government lists that can be used to deny your right to keep and bear arms without formal charges, judgments, criminal convictions or any other legal standard. You can call (202) 224-3121, or use NRA-ILA’s “Write Your Lawmakers” tool here.


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