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Saturday, October 07, 2006
Wrong Name, Wrong Time: Is Bobcats' Owner Robert Johnson Being Profiled by Airport Security?

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes has obtained the secret list of names used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen airline passengers for terrorists. It includes such highly-common names as "Gary Smith," "John Williams," and "Robert Johnson." People with these names are much more likely to be stopped and searched, and are much more likely to undergo strip searches, before boarding airplanes in American airports. For instance, Kroft "talked to 12 people with the name Robert Johnson, all of whom are detained almost every time they fly. The detentions can include strip searches and long delays in their travels."

Why is this name-profiling happening?
"Well, Robert Johnson will never get off the list," says Donna Bucella, who oversaw the creation of the list and has headed up the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center since 2003. She regrets the trouble they experience, but chalks it up to the price of security in the post-9/11 world. "They're going to be inconvenienced every time … because they do have the name of a person who's a known or suspected terrorist," says Bucella.
When I saw that the name "Gary Smith" was included, it struck me that I've known a number of Gary Smiths in my life. Gary Smith was a science teacher at my high school. Gary Smith was also a college classmate. And Gary Smith worked with me in one of my jobs. They were different Gary Smiths, of course, and none, as far as I could tell, was a terrorist. And I suspect the same can be said of the thousands of Americans who have that name. In fact, Yahoo! People Search indicates that there are 4,921 people with that name, which obviously doesn't include all of the Gary Smiths out there.

The name "Robert Johnson" also caught my eye, because it is the name of the Charlotte Bobcats' majority owner. I have not read anything about Johnson, the first African-American to become the majority owner of an NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB team, commenting on his experience as an airline passenger, but he probably hasn't enjoyed it very much. He probably also hasn't enjoyed watching his team lose 56 games last season and 64 games two seasons ago, but while new co-owner Michael Jordan might be able to fix that, even Air Jordan can't control the real skies above.


Do they really think a known terrorist is going to travel under his own name? You'd also think that they would include some sort of id info with the names on the list, like middle initial, race and height. I have a friend with the same as a known drug dealer in his region. It usually doesn't cause him much problems as the dealer is African-American and my friend is white.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/07/2006 8:33 PM  

I'm pretty sure it's been a long time since Robert Johnson the multimillionaire has flown on a commercial plane.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/07/2006 9:17 PM  

Thanks for these comments.

Anonymous 1: I agree, I would hope that there is some kind of physical description of the purported terrorist that goes along with his name, but the 60 Minutes piece doesn't indicate that. In fact, according to Steve Kroft, all 12 of the Robert Johnsons he interviewed are regularly detained before a flight. Maybe that isn't the best system, although perhaps there are good reasons for it.

Anonymous 2: Good point. Robert Johnson, whose net worth is said to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, probably doesn't take many commercial flights. However, sometimes taking a commercial flight is unavoidable.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 10/07/2006 9:41 PM  

I also think that a terrorist won't use his real name and other characteristics. But the work of police should be good. So I approve the tend.
P.S. Thank you for this blog! I've just found it. It's great! I'm very interested in Sports law. Now I know where I can read the latest news.
Best regards,

Blogger Olga B. -- 10/08/2006 4:00 PM  


Thank you for your kind words about Sports Law Blog. We appreciate them.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 10/08/2006 5:38 PM  

I think that John Smith should be on the list. Think abouit how much safer we would be if airport security scrutinized that many additional people.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/09/2006 12:54 AM  

Yes, and think how much better MSU would be if he were held for interrogation.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/09/2006 11:26 AM  

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