Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watch Out for Exploding Barbies

It's never too early to become a terrorist. Alyssa Thomas of Ohio, who is six, is on the US Homeland Security Department's "no-fly" list. Her family learned of this while attempting to board a flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The purpose of the list is to prevent people with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying.

Her father said, "She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers."

The Thomas family was allowed to make its flight, but later attempts to remove Alyssa's name from the list were unsuccessful as the FBI confirms that a list exists but will not discuss who is on it, or why. Does this not sound a bit Orwellian? Alyssa's parents were told that her name will stay on the list but that the FBI will rely on the common sense of security agents every time she flies. The family flies often and this has never been an issue before because the Secure Flight Program just began for all domestic flights.

This makes me uneasy for a couple of reasons: I don't argue with the need for such a list, but the information on each listed person should be more precise and at the very least, should include a photograph. Since that is clearly not the case, leaving decisions to the common sense of security agents is worrisome. Six-year old Alyssa was allowed to fly, but where will the lines be drawn? How about a twelve-year old? Fourteen? Seventy-three? Also, my first and last names are common, so it is only a matter of time before someone with the same name becomes a security risk and I end up in airport jail.

The other day, Carly Helm, a ten-year old girl flying from Atlanta to Milwaukee with her sisters was forced to abandon her 2-inch pet turtle in its cage before the flight would take off. She dumped him in a trash can by the boarding gate and re-boarded the plane, sobbing. It's hard to fathom how a tiny animal could be a flight risk.

This is not a good summer for little girls on airplanes.


nick said...

Surely her parents are entitled to know why she is on the list and what she is suspected of, so they can contest the information if it's obvious nonsense. It's absurd that she can be hassled every time she flies on the basis of what are presumably false claims but can do nothing about it.

Warty Mammal said...

I wonder how long this nonsense will go on. If anything, it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

I just can't WAIT to fly and have some unknown person violate my privacy by imaging straight through my clothing.

TechnoBabe said...

The smile on that girl's face is precious. It seems so ridiculous that things like this happen all in the name of security. It is a mistake, why won't they take time to remedy the mistakes?

secret agent woman said...

I can't see why the parents an't be given a reason for their daughter being on the list. And if they weren't going to let the other little girl take her pet, at least they could have made a pretense of taking it to a good home rather than forcing her to throw it in the trash. What a traumatic memory for the girl (not to mention inhumane for the turtle.)

English Rider said...

The turtle was a salmonella/health risk issue. Would you assume you could take any random animal on a plane, without checking the rules first?

I heard there is a Mr. John Smith on the no-fly list. Monty Python could have gone a long way with that sketch:)

English Rider said...

Let me come back and add how much I enjoy your thought-provoking posts.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I'm sure it's a case of mistaken identity, which does complicate matters. If they remove the name from the list, the real terrorist can board planes with impunity, which is why I suggest photographs and other descriptions of those whose activities are being monitored.


Yes, that is always lots of fun. Supposedly they can't see our faces, but I rather doubt that's true. I really don't want anyone seeing the piece of titanium in my right middle finger. :)


It would seem that there are glitches in the system.


A Customs agent retrieved the turtle and brought it home to her 5-year old son, but Carly's father reclaimed it and the airline flew it to Milwaukee in the cargo hold. But yes, how terribly traumatic for that child, and how dreadful to discard an animal.


I have traveled on planes with dogs and cats and know the rules, but I think most people wouldn't think twice about carrying such a small animal in a cage on board. I read about the salmonella risk and think it's ridiculous -- I have caught pneumonia from Typhoid Mary, coughing up lungs in the next seat, and think they should screen human passengers for contagious diseases.

Thank you for your kind words. It's a pleasure to have you here. John Smith indeed.

Maria said...

Some days, I just...despair.

Katy said...

There is also a young boy on the no fly list. I belive his parent first learnd about that when he was just a toddler.

And I'm with you. The big problem I see is when you make it stander practice to ignore the list and use common sense, the list becomes invalid. So not only is it annoying, but its also useless.

And I'm kind of with English Rider, if you can't even take a bottle of water through securitey, why would you assume that a turtle would be okay? I agree the airline is wrong for not watching the turtle until their father could come to the airport, still though..

heartinsanfrancisco said...




The limit on personal products that can be carried on is 3 ounces. The turtle probably weighs less than that.

As for common sense - I think the FBI is making assumptions and should know better.

Anonymous said...

With due respect, this story has been made possible by the FBI (Funny Bunch of Idiots).

Cecilieaux said...

Actually, I don't understand the need for such lists. I don't understand the need for a Department of Homeland Security, for scanners, for taking off your shoes, for anything.

The bad guys or the people who are determined (remember the kids placing box cutters in planes?) always manage to get on.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It does sound more like a Saturday Night Live skit than the Federal Bureau of Anything. Oh, wait.


That seems defeatist. I think the bad guys OFTEN get on, but always? No. And even a small percentage of disasters averted is better than none. If you recall, the shoe removal came into effect after a dude boarded a plane with a bomb in his shoe.

Jo said...

I have a friend who is on the no-fly list. She is a registered nurse, and the sweetest, kindest, most caring person you could ever meet. She doesn't know how she got on the list, and she cannot get off it.

For me, the whole thing is beginning to get frightening. In the City of London, there are half a million surveillance cameras. By my crude arithmetic, that is one camera for every 16 people.

I think George Orwell was right, and his predictions are coming true. The main instrument of control in Oceania was the telescreen, the two-way television sets stationed in all residences and public places. Telescreens were monitored intermittently by the Thought Police, who are searching for the least sign of deviation. The sets may be turned down, but are never shut off completely. Sound familiar?

We don't live in a free world anymore, and what is worse, we have allowed it to happen.

Anonymous said...

That damn Alyssa, doesn't she look scary to you? Where does it say that people who qualify to work Homeland Security must eschew any semblance of common sense? The problem is, now that her name is there it will never go away, and it will really mess her up as she gets older.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


We've been living in a Big Brother world for quite some time. It's strange to think that when "1984" was written, it was so far into the future as to be unimaginable.

Yes, we've allowed our freedoms to be taken away by our indifference, and by letting other people handle issues that we didn't care to understand or get involved in.


Will the real Alyssa stand up? We'll all be on the list sooner or later, as the world's populations grow and more people have the same names.

Anonymous said...

All I keep thinking -- besides the obvious declarations of "oh come on, please, a little common sense here!" -- is that she is just about the cutest little human I have ever seen. What a smile.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's the cute ones you have to look out for. They're always dangerous.