10 Ways to Make Sure You’ll Never Fly Again

We can’t guarantee anything, but here’s a good start.

1) Have the misfortune of being named “Ben Laden.” Ben E. Laden, a resident of Washington D.C., tells The Rake that he gets stopped and singled out for a “special search” every time he flies. Laden says he gets reported to the FBI repeatedly by Web surfers from around the world who spot his name in search engines and then proceed to do their patriotic duty. But it’s okay, he says. “I’m already well-known to the FBI. I’ve actually got a security clearance.” That’s because Laden is a noted economist who once worked in the Clinton White House and the Federal Reserve. And he begs to differ with people who suggest his name is similar to the world’s most wanted terrorist. “Bin Laden is an Arabic name. Laden is a Jewish surname. There are no similarities at all, really.”

2) Be an outspoken liberal. That’s been the key to insuring a place on “the list” for the editors and writers of at least one lefty publication: The War Times of San Francisco. This magazine (and its Web site, www.war-times.org) doesn’t shrink in its opinion that the administration of George W. Bush is motivated by the twin evils of oil and ideology, publishing such articles as “Bush’s Oil Machine” and “John Ashcroft’s Holy War.” Editor Bob Wing tells The Rake that his staffers are routinely stopped and searched every time they try to board an airliner, thanks to their inclusion on a special watch list—not of terrorists, but of the current administration’s political opponents. Also, Wings says his email is continually bombarded by computer viruses.

3) Change your name to something Arabic-sounding like “Awada” or “Sabo.” Converts to Islam frequently do this—remember Cassius Clay begat Muhammad Ali? But according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there has been an increasing incidence of the reverse phenomenon in recent months: Arabic people anglicizing their names, to avoid possible list-generated hassles. It’s no wonder. Perfectly non-Arabic names are turning up on various lists, apparently for no other reason than a phonetic similarity. For instance, there’s the case of retired Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Larry Musarra of Juneau, Alaska, an American of Irish descent who is not allowed on Alaska Airlines flights. Musarra says he’s at a loss to figure out how to get his name off the watch list.

4) Open a Swiss bank account. They’re not as secret as they used to be. Although Swiss law still generally protects the identities of account holders in Swiss banks, 9/11 has brought increasing pressure on Swiss bankers to open their books on request. For some time now, they have been required to identify (for their own purposes and protection) who the accounts holders are, and the source of their funds. With increasing pressure from other governments, the Swiss have shown a willingness to freeze the accounts not only of white-collar scofflaws like insider traders, but suspected terrorists as well. At last report, for example, banks in Switzerland had frozen $20 million in 67 accounts linked to the Taliban.

5) Carry a boxcutter onto a flight. Yep. It still happens. Last Thanksgiving, airport screeners shook loose 20,581 sharp objects such as ice picks, scissors, and meat cleavers; 15,982 pocket knives; 3,242 banned tools; 2,384 flammable items; 1,072 clubs or bats; six guns; and—how can people be so clueless?—a total of 98 boxcutters. What happens when a boxcutter is found today? The Transportation Safety Administration says the traveler can do one of four things: “a) consult with the airlines for possible assistance in placing the prohibited item in checked baggage; b) withdraw with the item from the screening checkpoint at that time; c) make other arrangements for the item, such as taking it to your car; or, d) voluntarily abandon the item.” By the way, that “abandoned item” may also be used as evidence against you in any possible criminal proceeding.

6) SIGN FOR A Fed Ex DELIVERY. Federal Express is losing a ton of business in the Twin Cities Somali community thanks to the plight of two young men who were hauled in by INS agents pretending to deliver a package, according to Omar Jamal, director of the Minneapolis-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center. He tells The Rake the tactic has resulted in FedEx becoming persona non grata in Somali homes, where residents are increasingly nervous about being singled out for scrutiny by terrorist-hunting federal agents. Next on the agenda: Color-coded drivers licenses that readily and conveniently label immigrants likely suspects in the battle for homeland security.

7) Take a vacation in Saudi Arabia. The birthplace of Osama bin Laden (and 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11) has long made traveling there for non-business reasons a taxing ordeal for Westerners. In fact, the country does not issue individual tourist visas at all. It has only recently begun accepting groups of “educational tourists” from Western universities who want to study the country’s history and culture. These tours cost about $7,500. Unescorted female travelers aren’t allowed in the country, unless they have lined up sponsors who meet them at the airport. And forget it if you’re Jewish. Travelers proven to be Jewish—or who even have an Israeli stamp in their passports—can keep on moving.

8) Compose atonal symphonic music. It doesn’t pay to be too avant-garde nowadays. Pierre Boulez, the 75-year-old giant of modern classical music, found himself arrested and dragged away from his Swiss hotel room after police found his name on a terrorism watch list. How did it get there? According to press reports, a Swiss music critic who panned a Boulez piece for being too avant-garde so incensed a reader that he or she phoned in a death threat, making reference to “a bomb.” The next time Boulez went to Switzerland, the anti-terrorism police snatched him up after scanning a roster of luxury hotel guests (apparently, terrorists like to travel first-class in Switzerland).

9) Stand up and shout “Allahu Akbar!” when you hit the jackpot in Vegas. The Mecca of gambling has become one of the busiest spots for anti-terrorism surveillance. That’s because 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Hani Hanjour, as well as another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, all visited Las Vegas casinos during six trips between May and August 2001. The FBI has appointed eight new agents to the Las Vegas field office who will concentrate solely on anti-terrorism activities. Funny how only certain Islamic rules applied to the devout young men.

10) One sure way NOT to get on a terrorist watch list: Buy a Gun. Luckily, in all the media hoopla and Constitution-shredding that has been going on trying to track down terrorists, it’s good to know you can still load up on all the legally obtainable firearms you want without arousing suspicion. The National Rifle Association has seen to that. The NRA’s Catherine Haggett tells The Rake, “Rest assured that the rights of law-abiding firearm owners have not been compromised in any way by the enactment of recent anti-terrorism legislation,” she says. “Purchasing a firearm through legal channels will not result in citizens being placed on terrorist watch lists.” In fact, when we inquired at gun shops around town how long it would be until we could (theoretically) get our hands on an AK-47 (legally), we were told about a week. “Unless you have a really common American name, like Smith or Brown. Then it’ll take longer.”