Terror watch list trips up Marines’ homecoming

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Twenty-six reservists returning to Minnesota from Iraq were forced to leave a comrade at the Los Angeles airport because the government had put his name on a list of potential terrorists.
by Bill Gardner

Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown has just spent the past eight months serving his country in Iraq, only to return to the United States and find out his country had placed him on a watch list as a possible terrorist.

A ceremony was waiting Tuesday at home in the Twin Cities for Brown and 26 other Marine military police reservists returning from the war. There were eager families and bagpipes.

But Northwest Airlines wouldn’t let him on the plane in Los Angeles. His name had been flagged on the federal list…

     

As he worked with airport staff to gain permission to fly, the other 26 Marines arrived back in Minnesota on schedule. But rather than meet up with their families located just minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, they opted to wait on a bus.

“We don’t leave anybody behind,” said Marine 1st Sgt. Drew Benson. “We start together, and we finish together.”

Brown arrived more than an hour later.

“A guy goes over and serves his country fighting for eight or nine months, and then we come home and put up with this crap?” Brown said.

Everything seemed normal when Brown, 32, of Coon Rapids, and the other Marines, all wearing their uniforms, gathered at the Northwest Airlines counter in Los Angeles Tuesday morning. The unit had served in Al-Anbar province of Iraq, known as the dangerous Sunni Triangle. But when Brown tried to check in, there was a problem.

“I was told it was going to take some time because they informed me I was on a government watch list,” Brown said. “People at the Northwest counter said they had to call somebody to get me cleared.”

The clearance took time, and Brown missed the flight. He was scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities at 2:30 p.m. but didn’t get here until 3:45 p.m.

All the Marines thought Brown should have received a better welcome from his country.

“It didn’t sit well with any of us. I wasn’t the only one upset about it. We all were,” Brown said.

Brown said Northwest Airlines personnel “bent over backwards” trying to help him, but once your name is on the watch list, you are in for delays.

The watch list includes a large number of names, but the government has refused to say how many. Babies, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and David Nelson of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” have been stopped at airports because their names match those on the list, according to past reports.

How did Brown’s name get on the watch list?

It turns out his government also gave him trouble about going to Iraq and made him miss his plane then as well.

When Brown tried to get on a plane last June for training in California before heading to Iraq in September, Transportation Security Administration screeners found gunpowder residue on his boots. Brown had only been back from a previous tour in Iraq for two months. Sometimes, Marines in Iraq get gunpowder on their boots.

“I tried to explain what was going on, that I’d just got home and was going back again,” Brown said. “They made a big stink about it, and I ended up missing my flight to California.”

That incident apparently led to Brown being placed on the watch list.

“They should never have entered him in that computer,” said Benson. “It’s just common sense that’s the bottom line. I don’t think it should have gotten this far.”

A spokeswoman with the TSA was unfamiliar with Brown’s case and said she could not comment on it.

 


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