NEW YORK (CBS) The war on terror casts a wide net and has so far prevented a second September 11th. But is that net too wide? CBS 2 has learned of a top secret government list of Americans who are not allowed on any commercial airlines.
Are they terrorists or violent criminals or something else? CBS 2's Cheryl Fiandaca investigates.
The airport counter: This is as far as Rebecca Gordon and Janet Adams say they are allowed to go at San Francisco International Airport. The last time they checked in for a flight to Boston to visit Gordon's 80-year-old father, an airline employee called the police.
"She came back and said you turned up on the FBI no-fly list. We have called the San Francisco police. We were shocked, really shocked,Ē recalled Adams.
"We were detained. We were definitely detained. I couldn't even get a drink of water," Gordon remembered.
So why would two women in their 50's, U.S. citizens, San Francisco homeowners and long-time peace activists with no criminal records be on a federal watch list with suspected terrorists?
That's just one of the questions the couple wanted answers to.
An ACLU attorney tells CBS 2 the government wonít even tell them if Gordon and Adams are on the list.
Last April, the ACLU of Northern California filed suit against the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI on behalf of the pair and demanded answers to basic questions, including how many people are on the secret list, who is on the it, how do you get on it and how can you get off it.
This what they got back: hundreds of pages of blacked out text that give them no answers to any of their questions.
"The government has blacked out the information about what criteria they use to place people on these lists. So we don't know how someone gets on the list. How they can get off the list if they're on it incorrectly, we don't know. If the government monitors the list, we don't know if any of this makes us any safer. What we do know is hundreds, maybe thousands, of passengers are being routinely hassled, innocent passengers, because of these lists," ACLU attorney Jayashri Srikantiah told CBS 2.
Civil rights activists don't dispute the governments right to keep a watchlist, but they do have a problem with who's on it and why.
"It's very scary that our government is keeping a list. That's scary," Adams said.
Scary and all too real. The government has admitted it has a secret no-fly list of people who are not allowed to fly. And also has a secret selected list of people who are to be singled out, detained, and questioned.
Both are stored in airline databases and are accessed at check in. The lists allegedly contain thousands of names of passengers who are to be stopped before boarding commercial flights.
The list isn't new. It has been in existence since about 1990 but was expanded after the September 11th attacks.
"It's a no-fly list, it's a list of names gathered through intelligence and law enforcement of individuals who are either known terrorists or have links to known terrorists," TSA spokesperson Mark Hatfied told Fiandaca.
The list is now alleged to include not only suspected terrorists and those believed to be a threat to aviation security but civil rights activists say it also targets people based on their political views. A list that is thought to include members of the Green Party, a Jesuit priest who is a peace activist and two civil rights attorneys.
In Gordon and Adamsí case, the ACLU believes the couple may have been targeted for their work on War Times, a free bilingual newspaper that has been critical of the war and the Bush administration's policies on terrorism.
Itís very scary that two people who pose no danger, who are publishing something, which last time I looked we were allowed to do, are being detained at the airport and having the police called and they won't tell us why," Adams said.
And as of today, Gordon and Adams still don't have any answers from the government but have a court hearing set for April 9th. This controversy isn't likely to go away anytime soon, since the government is planning on implementing a color code system this summer to track passengers and that list too is expected to be secret.
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