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<nettime> The War on David Nelson
Bruce Sterling on Sat, 17 May 2003 03:09:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The War on David Nelson

*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 
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

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

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

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 trip."

"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 innocent.

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} tsa.dot.gov.

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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