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Woman stuck on 'no-fly' list after FBI checks wrong box

Student Stuck On 'No Fly' List After FBI Checks Wrong Box

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A long court battle waged by a Malaysian architect over her mistaken inclusion on the U.S. government's no-fly list may never have started if a federal agent had marked the correct boxes on an official form.

Rahinah Ibrahim sued the U.S. government in 2006 after she was placed on the no-fly list and was then denied a U.S. visa.

After years of litigation and appeals, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued a short statement last month saying that existing procedures to correct mistakes on the no-fly list do not provide adequate due process protections.

The judge's detailed opinion, publicly filed on Thursday, describes how Ibrahim wound up on the no-fly list in the first place.

According to the ruling, an FBI agent in San Jose, California, had not intended to place Ibrahim on the list, but checked the wrong boxes on a form.

"That it was human error may seem hard to accept - the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form," Alsup wrote, "a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit - human error, yes, but of considerable consequence."

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on the ruling.

The no-fly list has become the subject of multiple legal challenges. Ibrahim's case is believed to have been the first to go to trial, which took place in December.

Ibrahim attended Stanford University on a student visa, according to court filings. In early 2005, she was detained for two hours at San Francisco's airport because authorities believed she was on the no-fly list.

Eventually, she was allowed to travel to Malaysia. However, her U.S. visa was revoked under a legal provision relating to suspected terrorist activities, though she was not told the specific factual basis for that action. She has not been allowed to return to the United States.

Ibrahim petitioned U.S. authorities to clear her name, but instead received a letter that did not say whether she was still on the no-fly list. She filed a lawsuit, claiming that her inability to return to the United States damaged her professionally.

The U.S. government has since conceded that Ibrahim is not a national security threat. She is currently the dean of architecture at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

In his ruling, Alsup wrote that it is reasonable to believe that the FBI agent's original mistake led to Ibrahim's subsequent visa problems.

Once false information is entered into one government database, Alsup wrote, "it can propagate extensively through the government's interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit report that will never go away."

Law enforcement must track terrorists and maintain secret watchlists, such as the no-fly list, Alsup wrote. However, this case "involves a conceded, proven, undeniable and serious error by the government," he wrote.

The judge ordered U.S. authorities to correct any mistaken information about Ibrahim and also to disclose more information relating to the denial of her visa application.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Rahinah Ibrahim vs Department of Homeland Security et al, 06-545.

(Reporting by Dan Levine, editing by G Crosse)

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
mike711l February 08 2014 at 7:12 AM

It seems many in the FBI are about as well trained as Airport Security.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Judith February 09 2014 at 11:10 AM

Sorry, but I say bull crappy. Filling out a form in exactly the opposite manner as the instructions state isn't an error and checking the wrong boxes (that's pleural, mind you, not just one box) isn't an error either. Ibrahim is generally considered to be a Muslim surname. Some people think they can tell a person's religion by their surname (which is ridiculous!) and, IMO, the agent decided in his own small mind that since she has what he considers to be a Muslim name then she must be Muslim. His small mind continued to extrapolate - Muslim>terrorist, ergo, no-fly list. I know I'll get a lot of flack for this comment (if the moderators even allow it to be posted) but that's my opinion. I do want to make one thing clear - I DO NOT think that just because a person is Muslim that that person is a terrorist but, sadly, many people do and I think that this agent might have been one of them.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
newnereview February 09 2014 at 7:18 AM

Way too late to help this person. FBI error, cover-up, delay indefinitely, trial is needed to address the problem, NO punitive or corrective action for the FBI. How American! The government defaulted on its obligations at every event, including the court hearing.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
DEAN KRYSTEK February 08 2014 at 8:13 AM

The IRS is just another circle of clowns in the three-ring circus our government has become. Sadly, though, the clowns in this governmental circus are not funny.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
tom8931p DEAN KRYSTEK February 09 2014 at 12:00 PM

From what I see we are ruled by what looks good in thre news. Orwell' s 1984, and Animal Farm predicted what our government and our society would be like and he was right. Anyone who has read 1984, and Animal Farm will rcognize what is happening today.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
SRJimVal2 February 07 2014 at 3:55 PM

So they couldn't have rechecked the application and discovered the error, right after it was discovered??

Flag Reply +9 rate up
brett46 February 07 2014 at 7:16 PM

So, take away from this that the FBI tried to cover it up. Big government feels very powerful and that makes you and me less powerful. Big government equals BAD.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
gvette75 February 08 2014 at 7:52 AM

The FBI is getting to be a joke.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
2 replies
Robert & Lisa gvette75 February 08 2014 at 8:12 AM

Obama is the leader. Americans, if you didn't have enough sense to not vote for this evil man, just don't vote. You just mess everything up for yourself and everyone else.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
Nancy Robert & Lisa February 08 2014 at 9:23 AM

You lost. Deal with it and shut up.

Flag +3 rate up
Robert & Lisa Robert & Lisa February 08 2014 at 10:03 AM

No Nancy, we all lost when you and your buds re-elected this power hungry Socialist.

Flag +3 rate up
newnereview gvette75 February 09 2014 at 7:15 AM

It always has been a joke.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
bpcats February 07 2014 at 4:27 PM

14 years to correct an administrative error!! This shows what happens when small minds get too much power.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Larry February 07 2014 at 4:43 PM

Gummunt incompetance?
Whoda thunk it?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
tomjohnkraus February 07 2014 at 4:44 PM

Just go to Mexico, and join the crowd coming in.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
ferouz tomjohnkraus February 07 2014 at 4:48 PM

You will not be allowed in Mexico.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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