Wade Hicks in Limbo: how an innocent person lands up on the FBI no-fly list

On October 14th, Wade Hicks was en route to a US Navy base in Japan to visit his wife when he was escorted off his plane during a routine re-fueling stop on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and detained by armed military guards. Hicks, who has no criminal record, had previously worked as a contractor for the US Department of Defense, and had also undergone recent and extensive background checks in Mississippi in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Regardless of his impeccable credentials and without any further explanation, however, Hicks was told by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent that he had been put on the federal no-fly list, and that, as a consequence, he wouldn’t be allowed back on the flight, or to leave the island on any other flight. Suddenly stranded, Hicks was at least able to speak to talk-show host Doug Hagmann, and he told him:

They have given me no reason. They just basically are telling me, ‘You can’t fly because we said so.’ They didn’t know how I even left Travis Air Force Base.

I said, ‘If I could find a way off the island, I could leave’? They said, ‘Yes, as long as you don’t fly.’

In the same interview, Hicks told Hagmann that he believed the reason he had been singled out is down to his vocal opposition to the on-going erosion of civil rights in America and, in particular, to the signing of the NDAA 2012 indefinite detention bill:

I was very, very vocal about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and I did contact my representative.

I do believe that this is tied in some way to my free speech and my political view.

Click here to read a full report on Russia Today.

Hicks says that while trapped in Hawaii, “he called politicians in Mississippi and Hawaii and brainstormed ways to get home with friends, speculating on taking a private plane, a cruise ship or even a fishing boat from Alaska.” Then, on October 18th , almost a week after he had landed up in Hawaii, he suddenly received a phone call saying he had now been removed from the no-fly list. Once again, no explanation was given:

The list can be updated within minutes, so it’s possible Hicks was added to the list while in midair from Travis Air Force Base in California to Hawaii.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s office said passengers who fly standby on military flights are screened against the FBI’s list only on international flights. Domestic passengers are screened only through an internal military system, not the Advanced Passenger Information System run by Customs and Border Protection.

“It’s scary to know that something like this can happen in a free country. You’re not accused of any crime. You haven’t been contacted by anyone. No investigation has been done. No due process has taken place,” [Hicks] said.1

Click here to read the full report on ABC news.

So could anyone end up on the FBI no-fly list, and if you did, would you even know, and if you did know, is there any way to clear your name again? Here’s what the FBI’s own FAQ has to say about its Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) and the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB):

Who gets included in the TSDB?

Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or reasonably 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.

In case you’re wondering, HSPD-6 is the Homeland Security Presidential Direction instituted by George W. Bush in September 2003.

Can I find out if I am in the TSDB?

The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed. If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.

Are individuals removed from the TSDB?

Yes. The TSC works with partner agencies through a formal process to remove individuals who no longer meet the HSPD-6 terrorism criteria.

How does TSC ensure that the TSDB is accurate?

The TSC has a staff dedicated to redress and quality assurance that conducts comprehensive as well as case-specific reviews of TSDB records to ensure they are current, accurate, and thorough. TSC conducts research and coordinates with other federal agencies to ensure the terrorist record is as complete, accurate, and thorough as possible. TSC’s redress and quality assurance process has resulted in the correction or removal of hundreds of records in TSDB.

A quality assurance process… whatever happened to due process? But then reading through the FBI’s own explanatory notes, there’s something more than a little Kafkaesque about the whole system of self-appointed arbiters at the TSC, running their TSDB, under the framework of HSPD-6. A shadowy, secretive, and tortuously bureaucratic approximation to justice that operates without any public oversight whatsoever.

Here’s what Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the FBI no-fly list in an article published by the Atlantic back in May:

[So] In addition to the hundreds of people put on the list wrongfully and eventually rescued and the unknown number of people who are on it wrongfully to this day, there are thousands more American citizens made so paranoid by their own government that they’re convinced they are on a terrorist list, which the government will neither confirm nor deny. I’m with J.D. Tucille: “Invoking Kafka tends to draw the oh-so-jaded cliché police, but it seems appropriate enough here.”

Click here to read the full article.

1 From an article entitled “No-Fly List Strands Man on Island in Hawaii” from Associated Press, published by ABC news on October 20, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/fly-list-strands-man-island-hawaii-17521926#.UJMYnWdv9hc

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