Retired minister sues to get off federal `no-fly list'

by Jeff Switzer
King County Journal Reporter

The Rev. John F. Shaw says he's no terrorist. The 74-year-old retired Presbyterian minister from Sammamish says he doesn't have a criminal record and has never done anything suspicious.

Still, he's on the government's ``no-fly list,'' and one of seven people from across the country in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The lawsuit challenges the government's list of suspected terrorists who may not board commercial flights and its ``selectee'' list of travelers singled out for extra security because they're considered a potential threat.

Defendants in the suit include Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Transport-ation Security Administr-ation Director David M. Stone and their agencies.

The case is about innocent people who found out their government considers them potential terrorists, said Reginald T. Shuford, an ACLU senior staff attorney who is lead counsel in the case.

``For our clients and thousands like them, getting on a plane means repeated delays and the stigma of being singled out as a security threat in front of their family, their fellow passengers and the flight crew,'' Shuford said. ``What's worse, these passengers have no idea why they have been placed on the `no-fly list' and no way to clear their names.''

Shaw first discovered he faced additional airport scrutiny in mid-2002 when he and his wife were flying from Seattle to Medford, Ore. An agent took Shaw's identification and ticket to a back room for scrutiny, and returned scowling.

When asked repeatedly what the problem was, the agent finally said Shaw's name ``was on the FBI list.''

Shaw said he was immediately alarmed to hear he was on an FBI list, without a criminal record and no history of suspicious behavior. He was eventually given boarding passes and luggage tags.

Shaw said he is joining the ACLU lawsuit ``because I have been repeatedly interrogated, delayed and have experienced `enhanced' screening procedures and detention whenever I have traveled by plane since 2002 under the name of John F. Shaw.

``As a law-abiding citizen who is a retired member of the clergy, I was shocked to discover that I have been placed on the `no-fly list.' I have also tried without success to have my name removed from the list.''

Yolanda Clark, deputy director of communications for the TSA , said that the no-fly list is an accurate and an important element of aviation security that is updated regularly to the nation's airlines.

``The issue at hand is the misidentification of passengers with like or similar names to ones on the list,'' she said. ``Our current computerized pre-screening system lacks the ability to confirm passenger identity and this leads to false-positive matches.''

The TSA expects these problems to be dramatically reduced with the introduction of a new passenger screening system that will verify identification and include a passenger advocate office to provide efficient redress of problems, Clark said.

Aaron Caplan of the ACLU's Washington state chapter said thousands of innocent Americans are being stopped at the nation's airports because of the lists.

``Imagine how this would feel if it was happening to you,'' he said. ``This `no fly' list is not making us safe. We still don't know how a person gets on the list. We still don't know how a person gets off the list.''

In February, the Shaws said they had to go through a special screening before they were granted boarding passes for a flight to South Africa.

``Our bodies were patted down, we had to remove our shoes and our baggage was hand-searched,'' Shaw said. ``We were finally able to board the flight with 10 minutes to spare before take-off.''

Shaw complained to Seattle's FBI office, and was told the Transportation Security Administration maintained the list.

Shaw called the administration's ombudsman, where he was told the list is computer generated and linked to a database known as CAPPS. He filled out a Passenger Identity Verification Form and provided certified copies of three pieces of identification.

He said he still hasn't heard back.

Shaw said his son, John F. Shaw, Jr., has had similar experiences when traveling by plane on at least five occasions.

``I am asking that the government resolve this matter and remove my name as well as my son's name from the `no fly' list.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jeff Switzer can be reached at or 425-453-4234.


The following people are suing over their inclusion on the no-fly list:

John F. Shaw, 74, Sammamish, retired Presbyterian minister

Michelle D. Green, 36, Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force

David Nelson, 34, attorney, Belleville, Ill.

David C. Fathi, 41, attorney with ACLU National Prison Project, Washington, D.C.

Mohamed Ibrahim, 51, coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia

Alexandra Hay, 22, student at Middlebury College, Vermont, studying in Paris

Sarosh Syed, 26, special projects coordinator at the ACLU of Washington




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