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Being on a Terrorist Watch List

Sunday, 22 May 2005 12:00 AM

The official letter of apology came several months later, dated May 10. It was a government gobbledygook classic. To wit:

"With respect to your specific situation, please be advised that our inquiry has determined that your clearance difficulties are the direct result of an unfortunate misidentification scenario. By way of background, the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act mandates that every airline provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with personal identifying data on all individuals arriving in the United States from a foreign country prior to the arrival of an incoming flight. This is accomplished by entering that information (name, date of birth etc.) into the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), which is linked to the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) and the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). These systems are utilized by federal law enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on potential noncompliant travelers.

"Both the IBIS and the TECS are also electronically connected to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a nationwide law enforcement database managed and administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since all three systems operate on an extremely sensitive "soundex" basis, information on other individuals having the same or similar name and/or date of birth as the traveler in question can often be flagged in these systems as "near matches" or "tentative hits," and cause the innocent traveler to be stopped and questioned. CBP officers must then assure themselves that the traveler is not the actual subject of these matches or hits and therefore take steps to confirm his or her real identity.

"The trouble you are experiencing are the result of this type of near match with information the TECS on another person who has a similar name as yours. The records on this individual must remain in the system for valid enforcement reasons. However, we have been able to make certain adjustments and modifications to some of these records – but not all of them. Therefore, we strongly urge you to carry several forms of personal identifying documentation in order to help minimize any delays that may occur.

"It is also essential to understand that there are other important factors that can directly affect the nature of the routine clearance process. If you intend to travel frequently on an international basis, your repetitive entry and exit to and from the United States can increase the likelihood that you may receive a higher level of scrutiny than would normally be the case. This is due to a random selection process that is solely based on travel frequency. Under those circumstances, we routinely rely on the independent judgment of CBP officers to determine the extent of examination necessary in order to satisfy any inquiries and concerns they may have. That examination can many times include an array of screening tools and methodologies, as well as interview techniques, which we always attempt to employ in a professional and accurate manner.

"In addition, the September 11, 2001, attack on our nation has placed all of our airports, seaports and land-based border crossings on a high state of alert, which means that travelers are being more intensely examined than ever before. This elevated level of scrutiny is essential to the public's confidence that the government has indeed made their safety and security a premier concern.

Sincerely,

Gloria L. Marshall

It's hard to see how the name of my passport – Arnaud de Borchgrave d'Altena – can bear close resemblance to anyone on the terrorist watch list. But with an alphabet soup of interconnected "soundex"-sensitive systems, anything can happen. And did.

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The official letter of apology cameseveral months later, dated May 10. It was a government gobbledygook classic. To wit: "With respect to your specific situation, please be advised that our inquiry has determined that your clearance difficulties are the direct result of an...
Being,Terrorist,Watch,List
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2005-00-22
Sunday, 22 May 2005 12:00 AM
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