By Frederick Sweet
January 12, 2004
Art dealer Doug Stuber, who ran Ralph Nader's Green Party presidential campaign in North Carolina in 2000, was pulled out of an airline boarding line and grounded this past holiday season. He was about to make an important trip to Prague to gather artists for Henry James Art in Raleigh, N.C., when he was told (with ticket in hand) that he was not allowed to fly out that day.
When he asked why not, he was told at Raleigh-Durham airport that because of
the sniper attacks, no Greens were allowed to fly overseas on that day. The
next morning he returned, and instead of paying $670 round trip, was forced
into a $2,600 "same day" air fare. But it's what happened to Stuber
during the next 24 hours that is even more disturbing.
Stuber arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. and his first flight wasn't due out until nearly six hours later. He had plenty of time. At exactly 10:52 in the morning, just before boarding was to begin, he was approached by police officer Stanley (the same policeman who ushered him out of the airport the day before), who said that he "wanted to talk" to him. Stuber went with the police officer, but reminded him that no one had said he couldn't fly, and that his flight was about to leave.
Officer Stanley took Stuber into a room and questioned him for an hour. Around noon, Stanley had introduced him to two Secret Service agents. The agents took full eye-open pictures of Stuber with a digital camera. Then they asked him details about his family, where he lived, who he ever knew, what the Greens are up to, and other questions.
At one point during his interrogation, Stuber asked if they really believed the Greens were equal to al Qaeda. Then they showed him a Justice Department document that actually shows the Greens as likely terrorists just as likely as al Qaeda members. Stuber was released just before 1 PM, so he still had time to catch the later flight.
The agents walked Stuber to the Delta counter and asked that he be given tickets for the flight so that he could make his connections. The airline official promptly printed tickets, which relieved Stuber, who assumed that the Secret Service hadn't stopped him from flying. Wrong! By the time Stuber was about to board, officer Stanley once again ushered him out the door and told him: "Just go to Greensboro, where they don't know you, and be totally quiet about politics, and you can make it to Europe that way."
In Greensboro, after Stuber showed his passport he was told that he could not fly overseas or domestically. Undeterred, he next traveled an hour-and-a-half to Charlotte. In Charlotte, the same thing happened. Then Stuber drove three hours to his home after 43 hours of trying to catch a flight.
Stuber said he could only conclude that the Greens, whose values include nonviolence, social justice, etc., are now labeled terrorists by the Ashcroft-led Justice Department.
Questions about how one gets on a no-fly list creates questions about how to get off it. This is a classic Catch-22 situation. The Transportation Security Agency says it compiles the list from names provided by other agencies, but it has no procedure for correcting a problem. Aggrieved parties would have to go to the agency that first reported their names. But for security reasons, the TSA won't disclose which agency put someone on the no-fly list.
Frederick Sweet is Professor of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis