The size of the US government’s secret list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the country has more than doubled in the past year. The no-fly list jumped from about 10,000 known or suspe­cted terrorists one year ago to about 21,000, according to gove­rnment figures. About 500 are US nationals.
The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner when the US government lowered the standard for putting people on the list and scoured its files for anyone who qualified. “We learned a lot about the watchlisting process and made strong improvements, which continue to this day,” said Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Centre, which produces the no-fly list.Among the most significant new standard is that a person doesn’t have to be considered only a threat to aviation to be placed on the list.
People considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp are also included, said a US counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. As agencies complete the reviews of their files, the pace of growth is expected to slow, the counter-terrorism official said.
The American Civil Liberties Union has previously sued the US government on behalf of Americans who believe they are on the no-fly list and have not been able to travel.
“The news that the list is growing tells us that more people's rights are being violated,” said Nusrat Choudhury, of the ACLU. “It’s a secret list, and the government puts people on it without any explanation. Citi­zens have been stranded abroad.”
People who complain they're unfairly on the list can submit a letter to the homeland security department, but the only way they’ll know if they’re still on the list is to try to fly again, she said.
While the list is secret, it is sub­ject to continuous review to ensure the right people are on it and that those who shouldn’t be are removed, said Martin Re­ardon, former chief of the FBI's terrorist screening operations centre.