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“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”     Leo Tolstoy

March 27, 2007

Ordinary Americans Caught Up In The War On Terror

by Doug Mataconis

There’s an interesting articlle in The Washington Post today about a little-known Federal law, beefed up by an Executive Order issued in the wake of 9/11 that is having an impact on the ability of ordinary Americans to buy products or obtain services:

Private businesses such as rental and mortgage companies and car dealers are checking the names of customers against a list of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers made publicly available by the Treasury Department, sometimes denying services to ordinary people whose names are similar to those on the list.

The Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list of “specially designated nationals” has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.

“The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security,” said Shirin Sinnar, the report’s author. “The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don’t trample on individual rights.”

Basically, the list is similar to the no-fly list, except when you end up on it, you may find it impossible to conduct business or even buy a house. Consider this example:

Tom Kubbany is neither a terrorist nor a drug trafficker, has average credit and has owned homes in the past, so the Northern California mental-health worker was baffled when his mortgage broker said lenders were not interested in him. Reviewing his loan file, he discovered something shocking. At the top of his credit report was an OFAC alert provided by credit bureau TransUnion that showed that his middle name, Hassan, is an alias for Ali Saddam Hussein, purportedly a “son of Saddam Hussein.”

The record is not clear on whether Ali Saddam Hussein was a Hussein offspring, but the OFAC list stated he was born in 1980 or 1983. Kubbany was born in Detroit in 1949.

Under OFAC guidance, the date discrepancy signals a false match. Still, Kubbany said, the broker decided not to proceed. “She just talked with a bunch of lenders over the phone and they said, ‘No,’ ” he said. “So we said, ‘The heck with it. We’ll just go somewhere else.’ ”

Kubbany and his wife are applying for another loan, though he worries that the stigma lingers. “There’s a dark cloud over us,” he said. “We will never know if we had qualified for the mortgage last summer, then we might have been in a house now.”

Want to lose weight ? Too bad, no treadmill for you:

In another case, a Roseville, Calif., couple wanted to buy a treadmill from a home fitness store on a financing plan. A bank representative told the salesperson that because the husband’s first name was Hussein, the couple would have to wait 72 hours while they were investigated. Though the couple eventually received the treadmill, they were so embarrassed by the incident they did not want their names in the report, Sinnar said.

There are other examples cited in the article, each of which makes clear that the OFAC list, much like the TSA’s infamous no-fly list is fast approaching the point where it’s out of control and clearly isn’t designed in a way where it targets people who might actually try to buy harmful substances that could be used in terrorist attacks.

It’s a combination of bueracracy and bad intelligence, and it’s yet another way in which ordinary Americans are finding their lives turned upside down by measures enacted in response to the War on Terror.

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2 Comments

  1. Looks like we are all guilty until proven innocent now.

    Comment by Birdie — March 27, 2007 @ 4:57 pm
  2. The businesses have every right to refuse service to whoever they want, but the fact that the government is the one collecting the information is appalling. It won’t be surprising when people start appearing on this list simply because they’re political enemies to the state.

    Comment by Bret — March 27, 2007 @ 7:27 pm

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