The silliness of background checks, a very simple way to defeat being on the “no-fly” list

Dec 11, 2015 | Featured

Congressman Tom McClintock recounts his own experience being on the “no-fly” list.  How was McClintock able to get around the ban that he faced on flying?  He just had to fly under his middle name, which supposedly is “Miller.”  Suppose that the IRA activist “that the British government was mad at” whose name was similar to McClintock’s had also started using his middle name and that it was “Richard.” If the federal government started trying to make sure that the person of interested couldn’t go that route, then not only would people with the name “Tom McClintock” find themselves prevented from flying, but also people with the name “Richard McClintock” or “Rich McClintock.”

From McClintock’s speech on Thursday, December 10th, 2015:

“While serving in the California state Senate a decade ago, I discovered suddenly I couldn’t check into a flight. When I asked why, I was told I was on this government list. The experience was absolutely “Kafkaesque.” My first reaction was to ask, ‘Why am I on that list?’ ‘We can’t tell you.’ ‘What are the criteria you use?’ ‘That’s classified.’ ‘How can I get off this list?’ ‘You can’t.’  I soon discovered that another California state Senator had been placed on that list.  A few months later US Senator Edward Kennedy found himself on the list.  I at least had the office of  sergeant-at-arms of the state Senate to work through, something an ordinary American would not. Even so it took months working through that office, with repeated petitions to the government to get my name removed from that list.  And the farce of it all was that I was advised in the meantime just to fly under my middle name, which I did without incident . . . .”

Of course, the whole process is silly for another reason.  Take the recent revelation that ISIS has a machine that let’s them make “perfect” fake Syrian passports for just a few hundred dollars.  Then the whole notion of denying people the ability to fly is worthless.  There are an infinite number of different names that could be placed on those fake passports.  With billions of dollars at their disposal, is it really serious to believe that ISIS could fake US documents?  Interestingly, illegal (“undocumented”) aliens in the United States have been able to get driver’s licenses in some states (such as New Mexico) and then use those licenses to get passports.  In any case, if “undocumented” people can get a driver’s license, it raises the concern about the ability for terrorists to get around the federal background check system for purchasing guns.

So the “no-fly” background check system could be completely useless in stopping ISIS terrorists from flying, but may only make life miserable for law-abiding Americans.  (One slight clarification of McClintock’s statements: Senator Kennedy was actually on the “no-fly” list five times.)

Of course, not everyone agrees.  On Friday, when discussing the “no-fly” list on MSNBC, US Senator Richard Blumenthal claimed: “There really as a practical matter are very few errors. A lot of public attention is given to them, but the fact of the matter is that anybody on this list by and large is subject to a reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity.”  But the Senator is missing the point.  The issue isn’t whether there is a “Tom McClintock,” who is an IRA supporter, or some ISIS member who we know the real name of.  The issue is whether the “no-fly” list will actually catch these individuals if they try to fly on a plane.

All this also provides an additional reason for why using the “no-fly” list won’t stop terrorists from buying guns.  In any case, virtually everyone who is stopped from buying a gun is a false positive, a law-abiding citizen who should have been able to buy but was caught in the Kafkaesque type world that McClintock found himself in.  It is something to consider as the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton keep pushing to use the “no-fly” for purchasing guns.

The notion that background checks will stop terrorists from getting guns is unlikely to be very successful.  Rather than just saying that terrorists can’t legally buy guns, another alternative is to remove the terrorists from the field.  Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz asked Department of State Assistant Secretary Michele Bond this question:

The Department [State] has revoked approximately 122,000 visas for a variety of reasons including nearly 9500 with links to terrorism. Of the 122,000 revoked visas, how many of those people are still in the United States?”  But Bond was unable to provide an answer, but it appears that most of these people are still in the US.

Rep Tom McClintock in House well



  1. John Simpson

    Actually, I think the point is that if the government is going to deny any Constitutionally protected right they have to demonstrate due process and not administratively switch to some secret list that denies you a seat on an airplane.

    The weirdest thing about this is that the Left, which pushes back so hard against voter ID laws because they’re “not needed” has made “the No-Fly List” they’re new mantra even though at last count (2011) it was speculated there are only 500 American citizens on the actual no-fly list part of the larger Terrorist Watch List.

  2. Zundfolge

    Lets be honest. Banning gun sales to those on the “no-fly list” isn’t about stopping terrorists from getting guns, its about vexing the law abiding citizen and give the Democrats a way to instantly revoke the Second Amendment rights of their political enemies. This way the next “Joe the Plumber” that embarrasses another Democrat can be further harmed by the administrative state without due process and without regard for his rights (as a warning to the rest of us to shut up).

    I find it telling that at the same time this idea of banning guns for those on the no-fly list is being bandied about we see one of the major New York papers demand that the NRA Membership Roster be included in the terrorism watch list.

  3. BillMiller

    How appropriate that someone named Stasi advocates for a police state.

  4. BillCa

    The Democrats have sent mixed signals about which list they would actually use. Obama and a few others have said the “No-Fly” list while others have said the checks would use the “Terror Watch-List.” The latter has hundreds of thousands of names on it, including tens of thousands of Americans.

    Regardless of which list is used the use of such a “secret list” is anathema to our constitutional Republic. When the criteria used to put someone on the list is “classified” and the reason you are on the list is “secret” there can be no end of mischief from the use of such a list. We can have no idea if someone on the list is a legitimate concern or simply someone who has published an embarrassing article for the administration. It could be particularly effective at delaying citizens from the western states from appearing before Congress in some matter.

    The idea promoted by Linda Stasi of the NY Daily News of putting 5 million NRA member names on the list would do nothing except to dilute the usefulness of the list in catching or tracking terrorists. It would add an extra workload to the FBI/DHS to determine if some “hit” on the list was an actual terrorist requiring follow-up or not. Worse, it would subject millions of other, non-NRA members to bureaucratic snafus due to name similarities, especially for certain employment checks (e.g. nuclear plants, railroad engineers, teachers, pilots or water system workers).

    One can imagine the countless Smiths, Browns, Davis’, Petersons, Wards and others who would find themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation. Such confusion could reduce our nation’s productivity with people delayed from travel or spending time trying to get off the list.

  5. Geoff

    Aren’t secret lists the beginning of dictatorships?
    I seem to recall other governments had secrets lists and the people on those list would mysteriously disappear, never to to be seen again.