Are These Kids Terrorists?

Posted Apr 30th 2010 02:10 PMUpdated May 5th 2010 09:39 AM



Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times/Redux

Sam Adams. Edward Allen. John Anderson. Mikey Hicks. Allison Mosher. The members of this lineup have to go through additional security screening, can't print out boarding passes at home, can't check in curbside or at kiosks, and have to show up at the airport hours before fellow passengers in order to make their flight. That's because they all share a name with a known or suspected terrorist on the Selectee Watch List. The one other thing they have in common? None of them have hit puberty.

Eight-year-old Mikey Hicks from New Jersey had his first airport pat down at the age of two and has been dealing with extra airport drama ever since. Sarah Zapolsky's 11-month-old was earmarked for special attention at Dulles. Five-year-old Sam Adams was stopped from boarding a flight in San Diego in 2006. John Anderson of Minnesota found out he was on "a list" when he was three years old. Ingrid Sanden's 23-month-old baby set off security flags at Phoenix Sky Harbor in 2005.

Those incidents happened despite the Transportation Security Administrations' assertions that there are no children on the Selectee Watch List or its more serious companion, the No Fly List, that are compiled by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center and provided to the TSA for enforcement. The problem stems from the fact that the current lists do not specify gender or date of birth. The agency instructs airlines not to deny boarding to children up to the age of 12, or select them for extra security checks, even if their names match those on a list. But amid parental cries for common sense, it still happens. The TSA states that "Airlines can and should automatically de-select any 8-year-olds out there that appear to be on a watch list." But "de-selecting" isn't always easy. It takes time, multiple phone calls, and intervention by supervisors, and it causes travel delays, not to mention stress for both the kids and the parents.

Najlah Feanny Hicks is all too familiar with such travel stress. Her 8-year-old son Mikey has been faced with aggressive pat downs, difficulty obtaining boarding cards, and lost seat assignments for the past six years. His boarding card is also regularly stamped with "SSSS" (code for Secondary Security Screening Selection). "Mikey couldn't check in online, we always had to talk to a supervisor at the ticket counter who had to override things in the computer to get him a seat," says Feanny Hicks. Ironically, his father, also named Michael Hicks, only received his first additional security screening in January 2010.

When Peter Mosher of Worcester, Massachusetts, was printing out boarding cards for the family spring break vacation to the Grand Canyon in April 2010, he wasn't able to print one for his 6-year-old daughter, Allison. The United agent who answered the concerned parent's call informed Mosher that Allison's name was on a "No Fly List." The software engineer was "flabbergasted." Calls to United and the TSA couldn't clear things up. It took the assistance of Senator Scott Brown and several extra hours at the airport to get the whole family on their early morning flight out of Logan. The fact that a boarding card was issued meant that Allison's match was not with a name on the No Fly List, but for one on the Selectee Watch List. Lauren Gaches, spokesperson for the TSA, states, "It is important to note, that if a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his or her name is not on the No-Fly list."

Credit: Scott Olson, Getty Images
The TSA's "Secure Flight Program" should help-for those without an unlucky age and gender match, at least. Unveiled in 2008, with the aim of being operational on all airlines by the end of 2010, Secure Flight matches passenger information provided by airlines with government-maintained watch list records to verify potential matches. Passengers will be asked for their name, date of birth, and gender as it appears on government ID. Early estimates indicate that under Secure Flight, in excess of 99 percent of passengers who provide this information will be able to check in online or at kiosks, according to Gaches. The TSA also provides forms for getting off the list. "Like all passengers, parents can apply for redress with the DHS TRIP redress program if they feel that their child has been misidentified as a No Fly or Selectee," says Gaches.

What else can a parent do if they find their child's name is a false positive for one on the No Fly or Selectee Watch Lists? Some families, like the Andersons, give up air travel entirely and set up a website [] to draw attention to their efforts. Others travel via Canada whenever they can. The Hicks didn't take the fact that Mikey's name was on the list laying down. "We contacted our congressman numerous times, who then contacted the TSA" says Feanny Hicks. "We then filled out the redress application for both my husband and my son." But things didn't start to right themselves until they went to the press. "To be honest, we've been at this for years and it's not until the New York Times wrote their front page story about Mikey and embarrassed the TSA did they do anything to help," says Feanny Hicks. "The day the story ran someone from the TSA called to help us." And the Hicks didn't stop there. They set up a website [] detailing their struggle to get their son's name cleared, started a Facebook page to rally support and encourage people to post on the TSA's blog, send the agency emails and letters, and contact their representatives in Congress. Thankfully all their hard work is paying off. "The last time we traveled, which was about a month ago, we had no problems," says Feanny Hicks. It took six years, a Congressman, and an internet blitz, but this 8-year-old has finally been cleared for take-off.

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I agree. In fact, prior to WWII Hitler blew up one of his own buildings and blamed it on someone else just to have a reason to attack them. It happens all the time in the military, and our government isn't all that honorable either.

May 18 2010 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the TSA is the biggest joke, waste of money, piece of shit, no good, worthless excuse of a job I have ever seen in my entire life.


May 07 2010 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You probably do not realize it but radicals recruit YOUNG kids to become terriorist also. I was in Vietnam in 1972 and had a YOUNG child about 9 year old try to pull the pin on a Gernade to throw towards my team. He was neutroilized quickly out of self defense. Russia started training their soldiers at 3 years old during Stallin's rein. China starts at age 4, Nazi's started at age 8. So I agree a 23 month old and younger in all probability would not be a terrorist. Notwithstanding Radicals have already hid explosives in their underwear and shoes so what stops them from hidding explosives in baby carriers, under the baby, in a childs clothes, or any other plausible area. If they will blow themselves up for their cause with no regard for life why not take their young with them? They are sick but they are radical for what they believe. Radicals are not rational. So to keep us safe sometimes you have to look at the ones that could be carriers instead of their parents. It is sad to say but it is reality.

May 05 2010 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to striker's comment

Point taken, Striker. I realize that the Vietnamese used children and women in the war. Sorry, not trying to downplay your terrible experience. Glad you are here to tell it.

May 06 2010 at 12:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When my Grandson was none years old I wanted to take him to Disney Land. He has Cerebral Palsey and has to use a walker. They made me take off his orthotics
which were hell to put on and then they expected him
to walk through the sensor without his walker (that would have been a trick). The pins in his thighs set off the sensors so we had more explaining to do - what
a hassle.

May 05 2010 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yet America allows thousands of illegal aliens to flood across the mexican border every single day bringing diseases, drugs, human slaves etc. MILITARIZE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER--DEPORT---NO AMNESTY

May 05 2010 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Whisper: have you ever watched Zeitgeist? The twin towers were blown up by our very own government and NOT some Muslim terrorists. It was a very professional demolition; the steel beams were cut by the explosives at precisely the right points that are targeted by demolition workers when they take down old buildings; this was a professional job. If you look back at the news footage, you will see several small flashes coming from inside the buildings BEFORE the planes even hit!! Eyewitnesses who were in the building and survived have also corroborated this. The Bush Administration and the Federal Reserve Bank wanted to start a war to grow their profits. With Bush, that moron just mostly wanted to get even with Saddam, plain and simple. Why in HELL did we invade Iraq if, in fact, it was afghanistan and/or Pakistan who were truly responsible and who were also hiding Osama? Makes no sense, does it? Just like the way our very own government coaxed the Germans to sink the Lusitania to get us into world war I (by creating public outrage in America over the attack) and how they also messed with and abused Japan in order to get them to bomb Pearl Harbor. I'm POSITIVE I'm now on a list after saying all this, and I don't much care; I never travel anywhere anyway, so F*** 'em all!

May 05 2010 at 10:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem is our govt has too much power and not enough brains. They can make sure I can't get on a plane with a normal sized bottle of shampoo. I hope that makes everyone feel secure. We are paying billions of dollars for "security", which means some Congressperson's brother-in-law is making a mint and hiring $8/hour people to do work that should require some sense. The thing that really got me was the "naked" picture machine, or a pat down lasting 3 or 4 minutes! they at least buy you dinner first?????

May 05 2010 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please, these TSA people are educated in our public schools where aspirin and heroin are considered to be virtually the same thing. Kids spend twelve years under rules that do not take common sense into account. The penalties are the same for completely different ends of the spectrum. I got spoiled having my kids in a private christian school the first 9 years where parents are respected and held responsible for their children. In public school, they want to run your home, your children and all of your decisions the way they think it should be. Why wouldn't it spill over into other sectors. Personally I won't spend the money on an airline ticket knowing that they reserve the right to treat me like a recalcitrant child or even hold me hostage without access to food, water or bathroom facilities. If I can't drive, I don't go.

May 05 2010 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joellen Hall

I'm not sure it's wise to remove all kids from the watch lists. More than likely, none of them will be terrorists, but any religious fanatic terrorist who believes its OK to strap a bomb to himself and detonate it while trying to kill just as many men, women, and children he can, would have no qualms whatsoever in putting a bomb in his own childs diaper. People like that do not value anyone's life, and that includes their own children.

May 05 2010 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The would-be bomber was a legal citizen of this country. If we'd stop letting the trash from every other country come here, whether or not they become a citizen (like the millions coming in illegally from Mexico demanding their "rights" and saying we "owe" them)we might not have to check small children and old ladies like me for some sort of subversive activity. If the policing arm of our so-called government worked to deport these undesireables as hard as they work to check out all of us who were born here, maybe this would be the United States again. Profiling serves a legitimate purpose; there were no old ladies or babies from this country involved in 9/11. Political correctness will be our downfall.
We could start with a strong, responsible leader. When, remind me, did the Japanese apologize to us for Pearl Harbor?

May 05 2010 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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