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Rules For No-Fly List Disclosures Get An Update


Last summer, I spoke with dog trainer and former Marine, Abe Mashal. In 2010, he needed to fly to a job - nothing unusual. But things got weird at the airport when he handed his driver's license to the woman at the ticket counter.

ABE MASHAL: She kind of gave me a strange look. Then she went in back for about five minutes. And when she came back out, I heard some commotion behind me. So I turned around, and I was surrounded by around 30 TSA and Chicago police (laughter). So that's how I found out I was on the no-fly list.

RATH: Mashal was never told why he was on the secret list, which is designed to screen for possible terrorists. And he's not alone. Hundreds of U.S. citizens are on the no-fly list. But this week, the Department of Justice said it would share some information about the list. Adam Goldman has been covering the story for The Washington Post. He says a lawsuit forced the DOJ's hand.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, in 2010, a group of individuals sued the federal government in Portland, Ore. They had been seeking ways to find out if they were on the no-fly list and to challenge their status on that list. And eventually, it came to the head in June, and the judge ruled in their favor and said the redress procedures that the Department of Homeland Security had in place were wholly ineffective. And that forced the Justice Department to make a filing earlier this week saying that they would now tell people when they're on the list.

RATH: So lay out how the new rules work. What exactly happens now if someone on the no-fly list tries to board a flight?

GOLDMAN: Well, previously, if you were denied boarding, if you wrote the DHS and asked if you were on the no-fly list, the DHS would neither confirm nor deny whether you were on this list. Now the Justice Department says, yes, we will tell you if you're on the no-fly list, and you can make a inquiry as to why you're on the no-fly list. And TSA will provide the individual with a final written determination providing the basis for the decision. I guess the real question is, how much are they going to say about why you are on that list?

RATH: Right, and do we have any sense of that - the kind of information they'll - they would deliver, the kind of information they won't deliver?

GOLDMAN: I mean, they can withhold information based on national security reasons. So if they got information about you from, say, a liaison service in Jordan or Pakistan or intercepts from the NSA, you know, that - they're not going to tell you that information for that will still leave people somewhat in a state of limbo because if they don't know the evidence, how can they challenge it?

RATH: Right. And in terms of - if in a situation where they do find out some of the evidence, does this new system give them a way to challenge that, the redress part of it?

GOLDMAN: You know, that's not exactly clear. I talked to Hina Shamsi, who's one of the ACLU lawyers representing these individuals out in Portland, and she doesn't think so. She feels that the government's new redress process falls far short of constitutional requirements because she says it denies her clients meaningful notice, evidence and a hearing. I don't know if they're going to file a new lawsuit, but Hina told me that the government had an opportunity to come up with a fair process but failed. So she says they're going to challenge it in court again.

RATH: That's Adam Goldman. He reports on national security for The Washington Post. Adam, thank you.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.