It’s a Wild World

Does anyone else find it bizarre that so many news outlets are reporting that Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) was denied entry to the United States because he appears on a terrorist watch list with a straight face? I know content providers pretend to separate editorial/opinion pieces from “straight news” stories, but this one is so implausible it’s almost a sign of bias to not go into a little more detail about the absurdity of it. At least this AP story printed in the Portland Maine Press Herald includes the statement that officials “said Islam was denied entry on national security grounds, but had no details about why the peace activist might be considered a risk to the United States.”

A couple of comments on this case, in the form of rhetorical questions. I realize I’m not the first person to ask these questions:

  • How is it that someone can be so dangerous that they shouldn’t be allowed on an airplane nor permitted to enter US borders, but harmless enough that they can’t be arrested or detained? If we’re so worried about them, why do we let them go once we have them in our clutches? If they’re a risk to airplane flights, why aren’t they also a risk to subways, baseball stadiums, and Britney Spears concerts?
  • With all these “false positives” (i.e., clearly harmless people appearing on security watch lists, including, for example Senator Ted Kennedy), isn’t our confidence in the whole system shot? If every third person to walk through a bomb detector sets off the alarm, aren’t the guards eventually going to just ignore the alarm? Have we reached the point where the secret terrorism watch lists and no-fly lists are so voluminous as to be useless?