Name Matching

What would I like to be when I grow up?  From observation, it would seem that being a consultant is a good business --- you are responsible for running a company, you sit around all day and talk, and you get paid a ton of money.  But how do you make someone hire you as a consultant.  Well, they hire because you have a head full of useful information.  Like what?

Here is a simple problem in direct mail, which has become a major technical issue in the War Against Terrorism.  In direct mail applications, the daily operations is about taking various lists and run merging/purging operations.  You have two lists of names and addresses, and you want to see who is on both list.  Easy?  Not really.  The direct mail consultant will tell you that you should never match on the basis of the full last name.  Instead, you should do something like taking out the second vowel in the last name and then using only the first remaining five letters.  Insanity?  Whatever the theory might be, the only thing that matters is that it works better.  A consultant's head is filled with such esoterica, and this is why he gets paid the big bucks.

With the idea that name matching is not trivial, you can better appreciate this next essay.  Name matching is a critical component of terrorist watch list, and the fact that it is imperfect is problematic.

(Washington Post)  You, Too, Could Be A Suspected Terrorist.  Anthony D. Romero.  August 17, 2004.

Antonio Romero is what my mother calls me. Antonio Romero is also how I am known to many of my friends and family members. Unfortunately, the name Antonio Romero also appears on a U.S. Treasury Department list titled "Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons." The government provides only this name, some known aliases and a date of birth for Antonio Romero. No further attempt is made at delineating one Antonio Romero from the next. A quick Internet search found no fewer than 10 of them in New York, not to mention four Anthony Romeros.

The proliferation of government watch lists is a troubling development in the war on terrorism. I recently learned more about this list because my organization, the ACLU, had signed a funding agreement with the Combined Federal Campaign in order to receive $500,000 it gathers from federal employees. The agreement required the ACLU to affirm that it would not knowingly hire individuals named on various watch lists. We believed that we were not required to affirmatively check employees against any list. But when we later were told that indeed we would have to check all current and potential employees, we withdrew from the CFC.

All Americans have an important obligation and role in this country's efforts to protect us from those who would harm us. But these lists, which are notoriously vague and riddled with errors, are not the best way to fight terrorism. Just take me as an example.

The CFC would require the ACLU -- and the more than 2,000 nonprofits that receive its funding -- to affirmatively check the names of our employees against the lists. But what do we do if there is a match? What if the ACLU had checked my name against the watch lists and found the name of Antonio Romero? If it hired the Antonio Romero targeted by the government, knowingly or not, the ACLU would open itself up to civil or criminal sanctions. So the stakes are high. To make matters more complicated, CFC recipients are not alone in this new wonderland.

Under a little-known law from 1977, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, serious potential sanctions apply to all employers and people in the United States, not just to CFC recipients. With the expansion of terrorist watch lists since Sept. 11, the implications of this policy have grown exponentially, but the its existence and broad reach remain largely unknown. U.S. law forbids employers from hiring any individual designated on various government lists. If they hire someone from these lists unknowingly, the person or organization may be liable for civil sanctions, and if intentionally, criminal sanctions can be imposed.

The easiest method to distinguish me from the Antonio Romero on the watch list would be to compare birth dates. The Romero in question was born eight years before me. Great, problem solved -- except that under age discrimination law, employers cannot ask about my age or date of birth prior to hiring. Furthermore, not all the entries on the lists provide a date of birth or any other distinguishing information. Faced with these challenges, many employers might simply choose not to hire me.

While the ACLU has never checked any of its employees against any government watch list, nor asked job applicants for their dates of birth or national origin before hiring them -- we may not under federal law -- we find ourselves in a true Catch-22: Disregard the watch lists and thereby risk breaking the law, or comply and possibly violate employees' civil liberties.

The ACLU has challenged similar watch lists in the context of airport travel. We have litigated against "no-fly" lists on behalf of ACLU clients who do not belong on these lists but have no way to get their names off. When our clients travel, the "false positives" make their experiences at airports difficult. Imagine if these same problems extended to all people whose names appear on government watch lists and to all aspects of our lives.

As we debate the need to reorganize our intelligence system, we must have an open dialogue about what measures truly make us safer. Blacklisting innocent people from employment does not make us safer. Making lengthy and ambiguous watch lists that employers do not know about but are nevertheless liable to observe only serves to undercut public confidence in the government's efforts in the war on terrorism. The proliferation of these lists could threaten many basic rights while leaving little recourse for those affected.

We all have to shoulder our responsibility if we want to keep America safe from terrorists. But we don't want to live in a country where every company, large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, must ask every Antonio Romero, including me, to prove every day that he is not a terrorist because his name happens to appear on a list.

(AP via Yahoo! News)  Error Puts Kennedy on Airline No-Fly List.  August 19, 2004.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard this morning from one of its own about some of the problems with airline "no fly" watch lists. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., says he had a close encounter with the lists when trying to take the U.S. Airways shuttle out of Washington to Boston. The ticket agent wouldn't let him on the plane. His name was on the list in error.

After a flurry of phone calls, Kennedy was able to fly home, but then the same thing happened coming back to Washington.

Kennedy says it took three calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to get his name stricken from the list. The process took several weeks, in all.

(Las Vegas Review-Journal)  Mistaken Identity: Garcia Stuck On Watch List.  By Lisa Kim Bach.  January 3, 2005.

The superintendent of the Clark County School District is not THAT Carlos Garcia.

It's a point local public schools leader Carlos Garcia has been trying to make to the Transportation Security Administration and Southwest Airlines for half a year now, with little success.

He's provided the government with notarized copies of his passport, his driver's license and his school district identification in an attempt to show he's an educator by profession, not an international terrorist.

But nothing has been able to stop the red flag from rising nearly every time he travels by air.

"I think it's important to have security, and I don't want to seem unpatriotic by questioning that," said Garcia, who oversees the nation's fifth-largest public schools system.

"But my biggest frustration is that there's got to be a way to get off the list, and no one seems to know what it is," Garcia said. "If that's the case and there isn't one, then this is a flawed system that needs to be corrected."

Garcia is not alone in being the victim of mistaken identification when trying to catch a flight. Numerous news reports have shown celebrities, members of Congress and just plain folks having their travels impeded because their names have been confused with someone on the watch list.

In March, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was stopped three times in airports in Boston and Washington, D.C., because he was misidentified. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, experienced similar problems.

"In one of my letters to the TSA, I pointed out that there are 13 Carlos Garcias in the phone book here," Garcia said. "There are probably hundreds in Los Angeles. Are they stopping all of us?"

Jennifer Peppin, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said problems related to the watch list can be addressed by e-mailing tsa.ombudsman@dhs. gov. She also said steps are being taken to prevent watch list confusion. A new computer passenger pre-screening system, Secure Flight, is being tested for airport use and should reduce the cases of mistaken identity.

"The problem is certainly out there, but people are getting a little more savvy in dealing with it," Peppin said.

Peppin said that as of January 2003, 250 people have submitted paperwork to the TSA asking for help in clarifying they're not a person named on the watch list.

But Garcia said he's worked the bureaucracy, written the letters and reported his problem with minimal results. All he's received so far is a TSA letter he's now supposed to carry with him when he travels by air.

He's still barred from obtaining his boarding passes electronically, he can't use the ticket kiosks at the airport and he's stuck waiting in line at the ticket counter while agents flip through their computer screens to make sure he's not the watch list Garcia.

The delays have almost caused him to miss flights and it's doubled the time he's stuck in airports. Garcia said he can understand being pulled aside once or twice, but he's been singled out every time he flies Southwest Airlines, which is a carrier used often by the district for travel to and from Washoe County for state government business.

As the start of the 2005 session approaches, Garcia said he is "having nightmares" about the frequent appearances he'll have to make before legislators and the potential airport delays that might leave him stranded or late for important engagements.

"Why can't they just look at my frequent flier number or view who's purchasing the ticket?" asked Garcia, who does the bulk of his traveling on district business. "My tickets are being purchased by the CCSD. To my knowledge, the CCSD isn't purchasing tickets for terrorists."

Garcia, who was just named the 2005 Nevada Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, said he's now appealing for help to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate minority leader. He sent Reid a letter on Dec. 16 summing up his problem.

"If he can't help me, then I think we're living in scary times," Garcia said.

Related Post: David Nelson.

(CBS 60 Minutes)  Unlikely Terrorists On No-Fly List.  By Steve Kroft.  October 5, 2006.

(CBS) 60 Minutes, in collaboration with the National Security News Service, has obtained the secret list used to screen airline passengers for terrorists and discovered it includes names of people not likely to cause terror, including the president of Bolivia, people who are dead and names so common, they are shared by thousands of innocent fliers.

Steve Kroft's investigation, in which an ex-FBI agent who worked on its al Qaeda task force says the list of 44,000 names is ineffective, will be broadcast this Sunday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The former FBI agent, Jack Cloonan, knew the list that was hastily assembled after 9/11, would be bungled. "When we heard the name list or no-fly list … the eyes rolled back in my head, because we knew what was going to happen," he says. "They basically did a massive data dump and said, 'Okay, anybody that's got a nexus to terrorism, let's make sure they get on the list,'" he tells Kroft.

The "data dump" of names from the files of several government agencies, including the CIA, fed into the computer compiling the list contained many unlikely terrorists. These include Saddam Hussein, who is under arrest, Nabih Berri, Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, and Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. It also includes the names of 14 of the 19 dead 9/11 hijackers.

But the names of some of the most dangerous living terrorists or suspects are kept off the list.

The 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year.

The name of David Belfield who now goes by Dawud Sallahuddin, is not on the list, even though he assassinated someone in Washington, D.C., for former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. This is because the accuracy of the list meant to uphold security takes a back seat to overarching security needs: it could get into the wrong hands. "The government doesn't want that information outside the government," says Cathy Berrick, director of Homeland Security investigations for the General Accounting Office.

Berrick says Homeland Security would probably agree that leaving such names off the list is a concern. The Transportation Security Administration is trying to fix the list through a program called "Secure Flight," says Berrick, but after three years and an estimated $144 million spent on the program, there's "nothing tangible yet," she says.

Even if the list is made more accurate, it won't help thousands of innocent travelers who share a common name on the list and who get detained, sometimes for hours, when they attempt to fly.

Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson are some of those names. 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.

"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.

Cloonan, when shown a copy of the list from March 2006, tells Kroft, "I did see Osama bin Laden, both with an "O" in the first name and "U" in the second…I was glad to see that. But some of the other names I see here…I just have to scratch my head and say, 'My God, what have we created here?'"