Until now, only a few of my best friends knew the government thought I was a terrorist. I can talk about it now because, well, the government learned the truth, and what I learned may help you if you are on a government watch list.
I’m overstating things a bit, I guess, but for the last three or four years, I’ve had a special place on one of the terrorist watch lists – not because of anything I did but because my name – Jim Lynch – is common enough that some Jim Lynch somewhere on the earth was dodgy enough to keep an eye on.
This isn’t unusual. I know another actuary with a similarly common Irish name who’s on the list. I’m not giving his name because, well, it’s none of your business. The outlaws in Mr. X and me assume we share our names with some IRA baddies, but the real answer is probably prosaic, like a miscode by some well-burrowed bureaucrat.
Being a low-level terrorist suspect isn’t that big of a deal, really. I wasn’t fitted for an orange jumpsuit and the only time water was forced up my nose was during a bad flip turn at the pool.
But it was a hassle when I traveled. The government needed proof I was one of the (many, many) good Jim Lynches. I couldn’t print out boarding passes – which meant I would lose the seats I picked out and got stuck with what was left. So we sentence terror suspects to the middle seat.
And at the airport, someone had to look at my driver’s license before I could get a boarding pass. That meant I always got stuck in the baggage line. And it always seems – to the Ambrose Bierce in me – that every other person in the baggage line behaves as if it is their first time in a baggage line. So I would have to wait and wait and wait – just to prove that I am not going to blow up the plane.
Well, it looks like those days are over. About a year ago, I applied for a Redress Control Number from the Department of Homeland Security. The program is supposed to provide relief to unfortunates like me whose are no closer to a terrorist than when we appear in a phone directory.
You start here, click on “File a complaint/apply for redress,” fill out a form and send it in. A couple months later, you get back a letter with a Redress Control Number on it, and you are supposed to supply that number when you make your reservation.
Even so, getting the Redress Control Number is creepy, because as it assigns you the number, the government tells you the issue has been “resolved.” Notice you don’t learn what the resolution was. Oh, I was sure that anyone could see I’m the paragon of American values, but governments have been known to err, haven’t they?
And I’d been living with one mistake, so one or two more government goof-ups and I’ve got a wrong-way ticket to Guantanamo. I even started wondering if applying for redress was a signal to government that I really was as bad as my digital reputation seemed.
That’s the down side of crackdowns like these. They get the innocent wondering, and the fear of the Gulag becomes an instrument of control. It’s not even clear what’s being controlled, but to a government, control is always good.
But enough liberal prattle. This week, I got to test the program for the first time, flying three legs, including to Canada and back. Result: no hassles. I could print my boarding passes from home and didn’t need anyone at the airport to confirm I’m one of the good guys.
However, my family did get pulled over in the security line on an excess Barbasol rap. I packed a full can of shaving cream in an overnight. Apparently that’s too sinister, though judging by photos I don’t think Osama packs too much shaving cream.
Soupy Sales could never fly today.