9 Years on the No-Fly List Because an FBI Agent “Checked the Wrong Box”

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Over the years, I’ve written about a number of people who have been put on the no-fly list and prevented from entering the country for no apparent reason. Or, at any rate, for no reason the government cares to share with its victims. One of them is a Malaysian Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim, who was detained at San Francisco International Airport in 2005; eventually allowed to fly home; and then put on the no-fly list and never allowed back in the country. Why? As usual, no one is willing to say.

But this week we got a bit of a hint. Over at Glenn Greenwald’s new venture, The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain reports on the latest developments:

Last week, a federal judge publicly revealed the government’s explanation for Ibrahim’s long ordeal: an FBI agent had “checked the wrong box,” resulting in her falling under suspicion as a terrorist. Even when the government found and corrected the error years later, they still refused to allow Ibrahim to return to the country or learn on what grounds she had been banned in the first place.

[Eric] Holder, in his April declaration, restated his own new state secrets policy, that “[t]he Department will not defend an invocation of the privilege in order to: (i) conceal violations of the law, inefficiency, or administrative error; (ii) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency of the United States Government”.

Then he did exactly what he had said he wouldn’t do.

Is there more to this? Maybe. The government, needless to say, isn’t talking. But it sure looks as if Ibrahim became a target for investigation; an FBI agent then filled out a form wrong; she was later cleared of any suspicion; but the mistake lived on forever and now no one wants to admit it. Do you feel safer now?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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