As opinion-molding voices like Gore Vidal, Seymour Hersh,
Michael Moore and ABC Nightline begin to question the multitude
of holes in the U.S.
government’s story of 9/11 and its aftermath, a threatened
administration is showing the first - and inevitable - signs
Alia Kate, 16, a high school student in Milwaukee,
wanted to go to Washington,
D.C., for the protests
Saturday, April 20. She was looking forward to demonstrating
against the School of the Americas
and learning how to lobby against U.S.
aid for Colombia.
She had an airplane ticket for a flight out of Milwaukee
on Friday the 19th, and she got to the airport two hours
ahead of time.
But she didn't make it onto the Midwest Express flight.
Neither did many other Wisconsin
activists who were supposed to be on board. Twenty of the
37 members of the Peace Action Milwaukee group--including
a priest and a nun--were pulled aside and questioned by
sheriff's deputies. They were not cleared in time for takeoff
and had to leave the next morning, missing many of the events.
What tripped them up was a computerized "No Fly Watch
List" that the federal government now supplies to all
the airlines. The airlines are required to check their passenger
lists against that computerized "No Fly" list.
"The name or names of people in that group came up
in a watch list that is provided through the federal government
and is provided for everyone who flies," says Sergeant
Chuck Coughlin of the Milwaukee
sheriff's department. "The computer checks for exact
matches, similar spellings, and aliases. In this particular
case, there were similar spellings. About five or six individuals
came up on the watch list. Although it was time-consuming,
and although they were flight-delayed, the system actually
Don't tell Dianne Henke that.
A volunteer with Peace Action, Henke is the person who
organized the whole trip. "We were very upset,"
she says. "Here we were, going out to lobby, to use
our democratic rights, to talk to our legislators, to use
our freedom of speech and dissent, and then we're being
detained and not told why. We were taking young people and
telling them if you use means that are nonviolent and peaceful,
your message will be heard. But the fact that we were hampered,
that we were detained, was just a totally different message."
Henke doesn't blame the sheriff's deputies. "They
were very sympathetic to us, but they just weren't getting
the answers they wanted from the other end of the telephone,"
It was never made clear to her exactly why they were being
"We were getting all these different stories from
the deputies. One possibility was that a UWM [University
student had a name, Jacob Laden, that was similar to a terrorist's
name [Osama bin Laden]. Then another story was that someone
had a foreign name that was changed to make it sound more
American, Alia Kate, who used to be Alia Torabian. Her father
was Persian or Iranian. I've known her all my life,"
says Henke, who looks up Kate's number in an old Montessori
"I was one of the first people in our group to try
to check in," says Kate. "When I went up to get
my boarding pass, the lady said there were some problems.
She said her computer locked up and she had to wait for
someone else. And I found out that the someone else was
one of the sheriff's deputies on duty. And the sheriff's
deputy came and told me I had to grab my bags and follow
her for further questioning.
"I was a little scared. I was a little confused. I
didn't know what it was about. I was alone and was taken
to a building nearby. They sat me down in a chair, and I
just waited for 15 or 20 minutes. They had my driver's license.
They asked me what my phone number was and address was.
I heard them making phone calls, reading off some stuff
on my license. Then they asked me what my nationality was.
"I said I'm half Persian and Italian and German.
"They asked who was Persian, my mother or my father.
"I said, my father, my biological father. I don't
even know him.
"They also asked me if I was a U.S.
"I told them I was.
"They asked me if I was from around here.
"I said yes."
Though one of the sheriff's deputies said "it was
just a routine procedure," they gave Alia several different
explanations for what was happening, she says. "They
said it might have to do with increased security in the
area, or it might have to do with Indonesian terrorists."
She says there may have been an element of racial profiling
involved, too. "I guess we're looking for Hispanic
names," one of the deputies said, according to Kate.
She suspects they thought her first name was Hispanic, and
she says that two others detained early on, Manuel Sanchez
and Isabella Horning, may have been selected for their names.
Finally, they walked Kate back to the ticket counter, but
the computer froze up again, so Kate and Sanchez and Horning
were told to go sit down and wait for the deputies to deliver
their boarding passes.
"They gave us our boarding passes, which had a bold-faced
S with little asterisks on both sides, circled with an ink
marker," Kate says. "This meant that when we went
to the gate our carry-on bags would have to be hand-searched
and they'd have to wand us."
But the deputies took so much time going through the whole
group that not everyone was ready to go by .
Midwest Express held the flight for as long as it could
but then left, almost empty, without most of the activists.
"I was shocked," Kate says. "I couldn't
believe what was happening, that they could detain us long
enough for us to miss our flight in an apparent attempt
to keep us in Milwaukee.
It was sort of McCarthy-style the way they have the names
appearing on a list and targeting certain people, dissenters
especially. I felt my rights had been violated."
Sister Virgine Lawinger also was detained. "When I
went through the line, the lady at the ticket counter said,
'I'm sorry, you have to wait a minute,' and then the sheriff's
deputy came and took me and some others to an office,"
she says. "All they asked us at that point was our
birthplace and said these were just routine checks. They
said our names were flagged. That's the real strange thing:
What caused the computer to flag those names? I did feel
it was profiling a particular group without a basis--a peace
group. The abuse of power was so obvious."
Sister Virgine says she's upset about "losing an entire
day of intense education on the issue of Colombia."
And she says her "right to dissent" was infringed
Father Bill Brennan of St. Patrick's Church in Milwaukee
also missed his flight because of the questioning. "No
one was charged with a crime or threat of a crime,"
he says. "No one was advised of his or her civil rights.
My personal reaction is fear of the arbitrary use of power
this incident reveals. Someone in Washington has the power
to inspect a passenger list drawn up in Wisconsin, discover
the motive of our flight (namely, a peace protest against
what goes on at Fort Benning, Georgia, particularly as it
affects Colombia), decide who might possibly be subversives,
and stop our takeoff."
Sarah Backus, a coordinator for SOA [School of the Americas]
Watch Wisconsin, says she was told by one of the sheriff's
deputies: "You're probably being stopped because you
are a peace group and you're protesting against your country."
Backus later asked the sheriff, David Clarke, about this,
and he denied this was the reason for the detentions, she
Backus also went to the Midwest Express ticket desk to
find out what was going on. "The names are in the computer,
and the names came up," she says she was told.
Lisa Bailey, a spokesperson for Midwest Express, says,
"As the group checked in, one of the passengers showed
up on this list. At that point, the airline got the TSA
[Transportation Security Administration] rep and Milwaukee
County sheriffs. The TSA made the decision that since this
was a group, we should rescreen all of them." Midwest
Express either found hotels for those who missed their flights
or provided transportation home.
Bailey says that screening the names against the list is
standard operating procedure. "Everyone who travels
is now cleared through this list."
Where did this list come from?
One U.S. Marshal said the FBI compiles the list, and an
FBI agent said it "comes out of headquarters."
But a spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, Steve Berry,
would not comment at all on the issue of the "No Fly"
list, and referred all questions to the TSA, a new wing
of the Department of Transportation.
The TSA was established by the Aviation and Transportation
Security Act, which President Bush signed into law on November
19. This law puts the Under Secretary of Transportation
for Security in charge of airline security. Today, the Under
Secretary of Transportation for Security is John W. Magaw,
a former Secret Service agent.
The law empowers Magaw to "establish policies and
procedures requiring air carriers to use information from
government agencies to identify individuals on passenger
lists who may be a threat to civil aviation and, if such
an individual is identified, to notify appropriate law enforcement
agencies and prohibit the individual from boarding an aircraft."
The TSA has taken that power and run with it.
"The list is a compilation from intelligence agencies
and is shared with the airlines," says Paul Turk, a
spokesperson for the TSA. "But as to how you get on
it, or how it's maintained, or who maintains it, I can't
help you with that."
Turk adds that he doesn't know how large the list is, "and
if I did, I couldn't tell you."