Last Friday, Thomas Allen Green walked into a federal building in downtown San Francisco wearing a makeshift cardboard sign around his neck with “TERRORIST” written in thick black marker. Above the word, in smaller letters, he'd written, “Take me off your fucking,” and below it, “list, asshole!”
Green — better known as “Al Green,” no relation to the '70s soul singer — is the tour manager and promoter for Thomas Mapfumo, “the Bob Dylan of Zimbabwe,” among others. Last month he was added to the terrorist watch list called the “selectee list” — probably, he thinks, because of battles to obtain visas for foreign musicians. Green is now subject to a red “S” on his boarding pass and additional screening every time he flies.
He'd called every government agency he could think of to get his name off the list; finally, he was told the FBI might help him. So Green traveled to the 13th-floor FBI office, Dog Bites in tow. After a half-hour wait, an FBI man in a maroon, long-sleeved polo shirt appeared on the other side of the massive Plexiglas window. Green rose. The ensuing conversation seemed straight out of the Kafka books Green carried in his tote bag.
“Mr. Green, what makes you think you're on the TSA no-fly list?” the FBI man asked.
“I was given this by Southwest Airlines,” Green said, sliding a letter from the Transportation Security Administration through the slot.
The agent took hold of it. “I just checked the list, and you're not on it,” he said.
“Then why would the airline have my name on the list?” Green asked.
“All I can tell you is your name isn't on the list,” he said.
“Can I get a letter that states that?” Green said, pulling a blank piece of paper from his bag.
“You're not on the list.”
“Will you relay that to TSA?”
“When I tried to fly, I was hassled. I'm going to be identified by a big red 'S' for the rest of my life,” he said. He spoke aloud as he wrote: “'Thomas Allen Green is not on the' — what's your name?”
“Just say, 'the FBI in San Francisco.'”
“You won't give me your name?”
“No. When you try to fly, they'll call us. That's how the system works.”
“The system is broken,” Green said.
“They didn't stop you from flying, did they?”
“I'm not on the no-fly list, that's a different list. I'm on the selectee list.”
“Listen to me: Nobody here is looking for you or thinks you have anything to do with terrorism.”
“So I'm not wanted by the FBI for any alleged crime?”
“Please pass on the information that I'm clean.”
“Sir, did you get on the plane?”
“Did you fly?”
“Not without getting hassled.”
“You got to fly. That's all I can do.”
“But they told me they got the information from you. I'm on this list for the rest of my life.”
“You're not on the list.”
“Will you guarantee me that I can fly? My job involves flying. Am I getting permission from the FBI to fly?”
“No. I can't find you in our system. You're not on the FBI list.”
“I'd like a letter.”
“You're not going to get it. That's not what we do.”
“Maybe that's because nobody ever asked.”
“I'm telling you for the 50th time, you're not on the no-fly list.”
“But I'm on the selectee list.”
“You just told me you got on the plane and flew.”
“My rights are restricted for the rest of my life!”
“Why, because they check your bags like everyone else?”
“They're going to stamp me with that red 'S'! It's like I'm wearing a yellow Jewish star.”
“I don't know how to explain this to you. In our system, you're not wanted by the U.S.”
“Can I get a letter from the FBI saying that?”
“That's not what we do.”
Green stared across the glass, exasperated. “I'm gonna go,” he said. “I don't want to hassle you any more.” In the elevator, he mused: “Can I fly? Can I not fly? Is this, like, a joke?” (Ryan Blitstein)
For those of you who were trapped beneath a large object last week and thus failed to make it through all five parts of actor Sean Penn's Iran travelogue in the Chronicle, we're here to help. Below is a 112-word summary of Penn's series, courtesy of Microsoft Word's AutoSummarize tool:
“The women. Look at the women. I'm thinking about the women. This is Iran. At 3:30 p.m. Munich-time, Norman, Reese and I boarded Lufthansa Flight 602 to Tehran. Last year, including journalists, fewer than 500 non-Iranian Americans visited Iran. Iran is an Islamic state and a dry one. Not the Iranian passengers. Reese paced. (Iranian law demands journalists reveal their sources upon government request.) Women count as one-half a man in this country. Iran is a rich country. Spoke strongly. A women's rights group would be mounting an illegal demonstration. I said to him, 'American journalist! ' No camera!' The will and fortitude of Iranian women. Iran is also an exotic place.” (Tommy Craggs)