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earlier burfling | later burfling

Murphy's Law redux

Yesterday, wcg (amongst many, many others) noted the story of Walther Murphy, professor emeritus at Princeton University, who found himself on a federal terrorist watch list. Of course, Professor Murphy is also a decorated Korean War combat veteran and retired USMC colonel, his field at Princeton University is constitutional law, and the original story quoted him as saying that he thought the reason he was on the list was due to his having given a 2006 lecture criticizing President Bush "for his many violations of the Constitution".

At the time, I commented that I was taking the story with a small grain of salt, since there was only one source for the story (the Balkin blog). The story still hasn't been picked up by any "mainstream" news organizations that I can find (even though it's all over the blogosphere), but Google News does give me this front-page piece in the Daily Princetonian:
One of the most prominent names on the Transportation Security Administration's 44,000-person no-fly list is that of constitutional law scholar and emeritus politics professor Walter Murphy. Whether the ban is a case of mistaken identity or a reaction to Murphy's recent public criticism of the Bush administration, as Murphy alleges, is unclear.

Murphy tried to check in at the curb after arriving at the airport in Albuquerque, N.M., where he lives in retirement. An airline employee told him he couldn't be issued a boarding pass because he was on the TSA's no-fly list and put forth some conjectures on why.

"One of the two people I talked to said, 'Yes, you're on the list. Did you participate in any speech marches?' " Murphy said in an interview. "And then before I could respond, he said, 'We ban a lot of people from flying for that.' "

Murphy told the employee that he had recently given a speech criticizing the Bush administration. "That'll do it," the employee replied.
[ ... ]
The government could not "confirm or deny whether an individual is on the consolidated terror watchlist," FBI spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan said in an email, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence on which the list is based.

Milhoan declined to address whether public dissent against the administration could land someone on the list or whether the TSA frequently sees cases of mistaken identity
Okay, that's independent enough confirmation for me; the small grain of salt goes back in the salt shaker.

Unfortunately, there's no way that I know of for someone to find out why they're on a watchlist, let alone challenge the reasoning and get themselves off it. Hopefully Prof. Murphy was put on the list by mistake, perhaps by a classical music buff who hated "A Fifth Of Beethoven" (the seventies disco variant popularized by a different Walter Murphy). However, it's entirely too credible that he was put on the list for having the temerity to criticize the Administration in public. And that's a very, very bad sign.