The War on David Nelson

Bruce Sterling bruces at
Tue Dec 10 11:45:29 PST 2019

*Imagine if these wretches had the even more common name "Geert Lovink."
 Really, one shudders to think -- bruces

If your name is David Nelson you can expect to be hassled, delayed,
questioned and searched before being allowed to board aircraft anywhere
in the United States for the foreseeable future.

Since the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the federal Transportation
Security Administration has, without any public announcement, created a
two-tiered list of names "to protect our aviation system," says Nico
Melendez, the agency spokesman for the West Coast, who is based in Los

The name David Nelson apparently is on one of those lists.

"There is a 'no-fly' list," he says. "That's people who cannot fly,
period, " because they've been determined to be or are suspected of
being "a threat to civil aviation or to national security."

Details about the list are "considered sensitive security information
and cannot be released to the public," Nico says, but the Wall Street
Journal suggests there are about 300 names on the "no-fly" list.

There's another list that Nico calls the "selectees list." Might as well
call them "suspectees." This is a much larger list of names,
accumulated, Nico says, from information obtained from intelligence
agencies and the airlines. These folks may be allowed to fly but only
after they're intensely scrutinized by airline, law enforcement and
security personnel.

People whose names are on the two lists undergo what is not a routine
security screening, in which you're asked to remove your shoes or empty
your pockets. This week 18 men named David Nelson, all residents of
Oregon, confirmed they have been repeatedly delayed at airport counters
and security checkpoints in the last year or so.

Take the February experience of Dave Nelson of Salem, a lobbyist whose
largest client is the Oregon Seed Council. Dave often travels for
business, sometimes accompanying the governor on trade missions. "We
were on our way to a trade show in Atlanta," Dave says, "trying to use
the auto-check-in for baggage. We punched in our information, and the
computer wouldn't accept it."

Dave and his wife, Leah, stood in line until an agent was available at
the Delta counter. "We gave him our info, and he kept punching on his
computer for about 10 or 15 minutes. . . . Then he says, 'I have to go
in the back room.' He took off, and we stood there another 10 minutes. I
asked L1 another clerk to find out where he'd gone."

After more waiting, they were told a supervisor was being sought.
"Nobody would tell us what was going on," Dave says. "It's been 30 or 35
minutes by now. Finally the guy came out and said, 'You'll have to talk
to the cop behind you.' We turned around, and there's a security guy."
Dave says the officer told him there was a list of suspicious people,
"and you're on the list."

Dave was asked for I.D. and turned over his driver's license. "They
called downtown and ran a criminal check, and I was clean. Then the
counter clerk had to call national Delta and get permission for me to go
on the airplane. We were now pretty close to takeoff time." Dave and his
wife were issued tickets, but again at the gate Dave was thoroughly
frisked, searched and identified.

At the airport in Atlanta on the way back, the same thing happened. "The
woman punched in my name and said, 'Oh, no, Mr. Nelson . . .' "

One after another, local David Nelsons tell the same story: At airports
their bags are put through bomb detectors; they are delayed, searched,

David Nelson of Gresham says he was searched and screened three times at
the Portland airport, then again at the gates of Dallas and Atlanta
airports before arriving in Savannah, Ga., last month. "It's as if they
think you've been transformed into a terrorist en route. You'd think one
screening was enough, when you haven't left a secure area the entire

"What really concerned me," says David Nelson of Northwest Portland, who
recently was delayed trying to fly to Juneau, Alaska, to take care of
his mother, "was even when they determined I wasn't the one on the list,
it's like I had a label on my forehead that says, 'One must frisk this
person at every opportunity and go through his luggage.' It's as if I
were a pariah. " David had no idea why he was being singled out; no one
mentioned a list. "My son is a pilot for Continental; I thought maybe
that had something to do with it."

Oregon state Sen. David Nelson, from Pendleton, also had no idea why he
was being delayed at airports. "Then we flew into the Medford airport on
Horizon, and one of the agents said, 'Your name is on the list. You're
going to be checked every place you go.' That was a shock."

As David Nelsons all over the country have learned, once your name is on
the list, there's no way you can get it removed. Every time you go to an
airport, you're assumed to be guilty until you can prove yourself

Dave Nelson, the Salem lobbyist, spent a lot of time making phone calls
after his trip to Atlanta, trying to learn how he could avoid the
security hassles. "I thought I'd seen something on the news that you
could get a pre-clearance, a photo I.D. We called the Port, and they
knew nothing. I called the FBI and went up the ranks, and there's
nothing like that. You're just stuck. I said, 'What if I used my full
name, or just an initial?' They said, 'None of that would make a
difference. You're on the list.' "

Somewhere in the world there's an actual terrorist suspect named David
Nelson who started all this mess. Several David Nelsons have been told
by security or airline personnel that he's from Nashville.

But they're looking for him everywhere. Portland radiologist David
Nelson "never could figure out why I was constantly getting flagged. Our
bags would always come back with tape around them, saying they had been
searched." His son and namesake, David Wesley Nelson, who's 27, thought
he was always stopped "because of my age." When he flew to Los Angeles
recently, "they gave me a big hassle because I didn't have a passport. I
said, 'I don't normally carry a passport when traveling within the U.S.'

Every single David Nelson interviewed understood the need for greater
security in a post Sept. 11 world. They realize there are trade-offs
between liberty and security. But in today's world of high-tech
wizardry, it's hard to believe the Transportation Security
Administration can't come up with a computer software program that would
create a "free-to-fly" list of people whose I.D. has been checked and
whose innocence already has been verified.

The problem is not the "no-fly" list or the "selectees" list. The
problem is, once you're on the lists, you can't get off. It's one thing
to know you have to get to the airport three or four hours before every
flight; the David Nelsons might accept that as a sign of the times. But
how would you feel, knowing your name was on a government terrorist
watch list?

Linda Nelson of Tigard says her husband, David Nelson, has been hassled
in airports. "You're treated as a second-class citizen in your own
country," she says.

David Nelson is a common name. "My dentist has a couple of them in his
practice," says David Nelson of Aloha, "and my boss is actually named
David Nelson. He's had the same thing happen to him."

Nico Melendez of the Transportation Security Administration will not
confirm that the name David Nelson is on the "no-fly" or "selectees"
list. But he does say that people who want to see if their name is on
either list or who want to make a complaint, can call the agency's
contact center at 866-289-9673 or send an e-mail to TellTSA at

But if your name is David Nelson, chances are you won't breeze through
any airports in the near future. Even if you're a celebrity.

Remember Ozzie and Harriet's son, David Nelson? "I got stopped at the
John Wayne Airport" in Orange County, Calif., he said by phone from Los
Angeles this week. "Two police officers knew who I was and tried to
explain to the guy behind the security desk. It didn't faze him at all."
Even as another officer was saying he had once met David's mother,
Harriet, David was being instructed to remove his shoes, he says. "I
asked, 'Does the guy on the list have a middle name of Ozzie?' He said,
'It just says David Nelson.' "

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