The US ‘No Fly List’, a list of citizens who are not allowed to fly to or from the US, is much more extensive than previously thought. This is according to a 2019 version of the list that was recently captured by a Swiss hacker and seen by NRC.
The list was prepared by the Terrorist Screening Center – part of the FBI – and was introduced after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The now leaked list contains the names and dates of birth of people around the world who have been excluded from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plane.
The number of real people on the list cannot be determined precisely, but is probably in the hundreds of thousands. Several names appear on the list several times, or are spelled in different ways. For example, the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout appears about sixty times and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at least five times. In 2011, the FBI reported that 16,000 people were on the no-fly list.
At least fifty Dutchmen
From an initial assessment of NRC it turns out that there are at least fifty Dutchmen on the list. Among them known Syria travelers are Laura H., former member of the Hofstad group Jason Walters, former FARC member Tanja Nijmeijer and René Roemersma of the 1980s terrorist movement RaRa, who died in 2021. The list also includes unknown Dutch people, of whom it is not is clear why they are on the US no-fly list.
What is also striking is that predominantly people of Arab background are on the list. The fifty most common surnames are Arabic names.
Children are also on the list. In mid-2019, more than three thousand of all persons and their possible aliases in the database were minors. The explanation for this may lie in the fact that the US government also denies family members of terrorist suspects access to the country. The youngest person on the list was born in 2015.
The no-fly list has been criticized by human rights organizations in the US for years. There is also criticism in the Netherlands. “The problem is that it is completely unclear how the list is composed,” says professor of political science Marieke de Goede from the University of Amsterdam, who has researched the list. “People who insist on it are often not aware of it. The US authorities take the position that it is not a human right to fly or visit America. They decide who can fly, and you have to deal with that,” says De Goede.
Last Friday, US regulator TSA announced that a “potential security incident” had occurred at CommuteAir, a local Ohio airline. A 23-year-old Swiss hacker – who went by the alias ‘maia arson crimew’ – had announced on his blog the day before that he had found a version of the no-fly list on a poorly secured CommuteAir server. She had looked around there “out of boredom,” she wrote. CommuteAir confirmed the hack to the news channel CNN. According to the airline, it was “an outdated version of the no-fly list from 2019”.
Maia arson crimew – who was indicted in the US in 2021 for hacking companies – confirms in a conversation via the chat app Signal to NRC that she is behind the hack. She says she is “shocked” by the contents of the list, which she says is “obvious bias (prejudice) to Middle Eastern names.”
According to Professor De Goede, the list has not been cleaned up sufficiently either. “Even if suspects of terrorist activities are acquitted or have served their sentences and become de-radicalized, they will not be removed,” De Goede said. “There is obviously no legal protection for them.”
In collaboration with Rik Wassens