US Government Screws Up Terrorist Watchlist, Few Surprised

Dave

It looks like [Dave Jones] got himself on a US government watch list. We don’t mean [Dave L. Jones], awesomesauce electronic wizard and host of eevblog, though. Some three-letter agency is just looking at someone named [David Jones]. Is this going to screw over our Aussie friend? You betcha.

[Dave] bought a few things through Element 14 that he would later pick up at their Sydney warehouse. When he got there, he discovered the parts were ‘on hold’. Out of curiosity, he asked what the holdup was and discovered his name was flagged on a US government watch list.

If you’re keeping score, this is an Australian citizen buying stuff from an Australian subsidiary of a UK company, and being told ‘no’ by the US government.

The folks behind the counter at the Element 14 warehouse were extremely helpful, clearing the hold and getting [Dave]’s parts in just a few minutes. This has, apparently, been going on for a while; [Dave] recalled a few times when orders showed up a few days late with the Farnell/Element 14 people apologizing with the word ‘hold’ in there somewhere.

Of course this means it’s possible for someone working at the Element 14 warehouse to clear one of these US government holds, and even if they don’t the order will still go through in a day or two. Government efficiency at its best.

At the time of this writing, [David Bowie], the singer for The Monkees, the creator of Grand Theft Auto, and the British author famous for perpetual motion machines were unavailable for comment. -ed.

107 thoughts on “US Government Screws Up Terrorist Watchlist, Few Surprised

    1. We have it on good authority that he’s still in limbo, waiting to get into the afterlife of his choice. Something about a US government watch list.

  1. Just for fun, try posting American-made roller bearings to America from England, you’ll soon find protectionism trumps any special relationship. It’d be easier to conceal the damn things inside a block of cocaine-scented semtex to get them through customs.

    1. I’ve had frineds get stopped by bomb sniffing dogs because they had marzipan in their luggage. Apparently it smells similar to semtex.

      1. 1: American trade does not do protectionism. Note the lack of VAT. John U’s issue is not one of preferential treatment for local businesses. We like outsourcing here.

        2: There are some chemicals in plastic explosives that can be found in certain tree-nuts. I was not aware of almond being one of those nuts, but it is not surprising.

      2. The real fun is carrying Xmas Pudding.
        It’s what they use to calibrate airport X-Ray machines as it has the exact same density as Semtex.

          1. Would you trust airport security with Semtex?
            A little bit more serious: Semtex isn’t the most healthy substance to handle, RDX is toxic and PETN too (to a lesser degree).

          2. Or make it without the explosive part (replace that part with a chemical of similar density and consistency). Physically identical in handling but harmless.

        1. Mine had her opthalmascope/retinascope box searched because her spare bulbs presumably look like bullets. Even though she asked the security guy not to touch them with his bare hands as they were expensive; he just ignored her and picked them up.

  2. My guess would be that someone who frequents his forums is flagged as a bad person and he is in the orbit of the person and is flagged by association. Sometimes automated systems are funny.

    1. Nope they really do go by name, senator edward kennedy even got stopped at the airport (back when he was around) because an IRA guy called the same was on the no-fly list. And at the time both friend and foe knew edward kennedy, he was known to every american.

      1. Sen. Ted Stevens’ wife Catherine “Cat” Stevens ended up on the watchlist too. I assume she books with her full legal name nowadays.

        It’s amazing, but some dim people still occasionally still float the idea that we should deny the right to purchase a firearm if your name or any variation of your name is on this joke of a watchlist.

          1. Yea, that’s actually what she changed it to in order to avoid the confusion with singer Cat Stevens.

  3. This is reason #28,574 why I think this country (the US) needs to erect a high wall around Washington DC: To keep all the idiots contained.

    1. Completely agree, Then we could fill the wall with water and get the world’s largest swimming pool and a great vacation spot for scuba divers.

    2. This kind of comment really shows a great deal of ignorance. The Washington, DC area is one of the best-educated areas of the country. The idiots in the area are transplants sent to us by the rest of the country as their representatives. If you have a problem with Congress blame it on yourselves, not Washington. The folks living in the city don’t even get to have a vote in Congress so blaming them seems particularly foolish.

      If you want a smarter Congress, stop sending idiots.

      1. “The idiots in the area are transplants sent to us by the rest of the country as their representatives.”

        At last we had the sense to send them away.

        “If you want a smarter Congress, stop sending idiots.”

        I’d love to. All I see on the ballots are psycopaths. Do you prefer those to be smart or dumb?

          1. The problem is when they’re incompetent AND conniving. Then you get a government that’s evil, and not even good at it. At least when they’re conniving and competent SOMEBODY benefits, instead of politicians working against their own self interest.

      2. This kind of comment really shows a great deal of ignorance. People in power don’t get there by being idiots.

        Oh, and as a non-voter you don’t get to complain anyway.

        1. I’ve seen many congresspeople talk, and about half of them truly are noticeably below the average intelligence. The other half though are probably clever bastards

        2. “And since you didn’t contribute to this bucket of shit, you have no right to complain when it gets emptied over you”.

      3. what an ignorant comment.

        the system is stacked to ONLY put pawns and puppets in power. its pre vetted so that no matter if its kang or kodos, we still get screwed and those that put them there profit.

        the people have no say in anything important anymore. blaming the voters is a red herring. anyone who would truly work for The People just cannot get elected to any high position of power in the US anymore. can’t be done. just can’t be done. system needs a redo to fix this broken-by-design architecture.

        1. Yep, don’t want to sound mean, but anyone suggesting voting is a way to change the gov’t is speaking from a position of severe ignorance. I say not waste your time and legitimize a broken system.

          1. You realize this is what they want to happen, right? If all the people who know the system is fucked abstain from participating then they can build their careers off pandering to morons. In other words, refusing to vote for the lesser evil frequently lets the greater evil win.

          2. Yeah but then you’re still voting for evil. I don’t want ANY evil! While you’re right in practice, it makes democracy into a pitiful abused whore. Does anyone know what the Greeks had as Plan B for when democracy was stitched up by voting cartels?

            I’d suggest eliminating political parties, but who the fuck do I vote for to get that done?

    1. Nope, this has been fully CONFIRMED by the Element 14 Managing Director. See their official response in the blog comments. It is a US government watch list they check names against.

  4. Digi-key are also buggers for this! I keep getting rung up each time Iplace an order with them asking what its for – one day I’m gonna just say: “small thermo-nuclear device” and get me a free trip to Guantanamo!

    1. Yeah, I had the exact same Thing happen to me. I even had to get a release form sent where I specifically state what it is for. As if anyone really cares, or can know? If I were building something dangerous with it, I certainly wouldn’t tell them. The entire Thing is supposedly in a “know your customer” law that they have to follow. At least that is what the digi-key People told me.

      1. atleast digikey is American, so they have to follow American law. Law probably says they can’t sell to bad guys, so they make you fill a form, if you say you are a good guy their have covered their ass

        1. Same goes with the forms one need to fill at airplane when going to USA. “Are you terrorist yes/no?” “Did you take part in genocide?” “Are you a criminal?” Why not ask if you are stupid?

    2. like your comment, but the typo where you missed the space in ” I place” i read it first as some new apple product. i was terrified, images of little automated micro-apartments racing through my skull… siri waking you up every morning before she kills you for buying a kindle…

    3. “… small thermonuclear device…”. Lol!
      I work in industry in the UK, and have been involved with ordering from US companies. We recently placed an order for about £35k ($50k) worth of gear. As soon as US Customs realised it was going to a nuclear site they were very interested…

  5. See, this is why when you’re filling out the comments/description on the shipping part (you know, where you can leave notes saying like, what project it’s for to remind you later, or what customer it’s for, etc) I always put “This is not for an anti-government project”.

  6. Perhaps the greatest irony here is that he could probably order the parts from China and get them through the post without delay.

    1. True but run the risk of shitty knock off IC’s. I’m looking at you Maxim, for never meeting demand requirements this all the ones you buy off ebay are fake ones from China.

  7. Sam and Dan Houser’s name are both on the watch list? hahahahahah how fitting considering they stole billions from customers with their half shackled together game that has no innovations in it at all.

  8. I had a similar problem once after ordering an obscure clock chip from California. You know – those things that used to be discrete devices on PC motherboards. Anyway, they put a “Not For Export To Nasty Countries” sticker on it and the customs agent thought that meant I was a terrorist. Took a half hour to convince him that it was a part for an old PC.

    1. Funny you should mention the statue of liberty. I was once denied access to Liberty Island for carrying the worlds smallest swiss army knife. They could keep it for me while I went over, but upon my return it would be destroyed in front of me. The Police said I was free to carry it on the streets of New York, but it was not permitted on Liberty Island.

      1. that’s propaganda witch is not used much anymore

        there are anti noise laws that can handle that

        the only things i can think of (correct me if i am wrong)

        1. something in the electrolyte that emulates the fake bomb or drugs used to train police dogs and calibrate detectors ok that is the capacitors but not the op amps

        2. capacitors are not safety vented thereby could be ganged up to make an explosive (what much harm can the flying can and bits of electrolyte soaked paper and foil do).

    1. You kidding? We know, but we can’t divulge the answer to that question. Don’t want to give anybody ideas. Hey, is that a “jones” in your handle? You must be related to the terrorists!

      1. dont be silly ideas have been given in past posts

        just search for rocket fuel and there are posts on how to make rocket fuel (possible powerful enough to compete with rockets requiring faa licenses, no fly zones during launch event and such

    2. Better question is: How the hell do you think you can keep capacitors and opamps away from terrorists? They are in every possible device.

    3. An ied is just one letter away from led. :P
      A kitchen timer is way more useful than random electronics parts from a mail order stores.

  9. Another attack on innocent people by the Terrorist United States Government. At least it was just a part ‘hold’. Next time he’ll just come up missing.

  10. Another unwarranted attack on an innocent individual by the Terrorist United States Government. He should be happy it was just a parts “hold”. Next time he may just come up missing.

  11. What I want to know is why an Australian company (that is a subsidiary of a UK company) is subject to US law or is required to run their purchases against a US watch list…

  12. Never mind what *sort* of US list @Stanto, WTF is *any* company in Australia doing checking orders against any US list? By what legal authority? I wouldn’t be surprised if this is in contravention of Australian privacy laws. As Benjamin Franklin said “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned something specific to this, that “David Jones” is also a major Aussie department store! It’s also not an uncommon name combination here, I once had a friend by that name, and what are the chances of that?

    This is a good example of why this “shotgun security” is its own worst enemy – it must create millions of false positives every day, more than can be checked by human operators, a huge amount of “noise” that allows an opportunity for *real* bad guys to slip through.

    As a tech I have long taken photographs of industrial infrastructure that interest me, but after a number of incidents in recent years being challenged by “security” I discovered that while a 35mm SLR is a “camera”, taking pix with a phonecam passes without notice.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/moglen-1/5272470

    1. Actually, I think the Iranians have a BOFH working for them as a mole. S/He makes sure to increase the list size until it’s useless for it’s stated purpose. 1 of these days we’ll learn of a Project Cry Wolf (translated name), I think.

  13. Many people, including Dave himself are assuming that it’s someone else on the list and he’s only being flagged because he has the same name. We don’t know for sure! It could indeed be him that was specifically added to the list.

  14. the government should be more worried about spark gap triggers from being sent to nuclear and terror nations i.e iran, pakistan in fact the entire middle east.

    a spark gap trigger is a high voltage switch that uses a high voltage low amp charge to let a lower voltage higher amp charge through sort of like the xenon tube in a camera flash.

    i think they are used to keep the round stable and safe to handle.

      1. Not sure how that comment was racist so much as nationalist. Pretty sure it included even Israel that got ahold of those illegally, BTW.

  15. Talking about a self-fullfiling prophecy. They are genuinely afraid of smart people with advanced knowledge of electronics. And now he knows he lives in a colony, not a free country. This gives him motivation and that makes them afraid.

  16. who let /r/politics into Hack-a-day… IMO – lets keep this blog and its comment section non-political – This goes for non-technical posts about govt fuck ups.

  17. Re. spark gap triggers, those haven’t been used since the late 1950’s.
    The modern “Physics Package” uses MEMS based triggers.

    There was talk on various forums about the possibility of using DVDRW laser diodes as triggers due to the fast predictable rise time, but as it turns out this creates other issues such as static sensitivity and tendency for a single point failure leading to a full yield detonation.

    The biggest problem is preventing terrorist groups getting hold of fissile material, even reactor grade (ie MOX) fuel if shaped into a crude pit and installed in a weapon could do a lot of damage.

    1. If someone somehow had the information to get the timing and geometry right, they’d not need to use silliness like consumer LASER devices. The theory behind spark gap switches is pretty basic. AFAIK, it’s the difficulty fine-tuning that makes export controls slow the procurement. Even Israel and Pakistan had to import instead of make them?

  18. The issue here is probably with the state department. They’re the ones who handle the ITAR export restrictions, and element 14 is probably going out of their way to keep the state dept happy to keep their export licenses squared away.

  19. And if even one person is on a ‘No Fly List’ when that system does not have open system of due process and citizen review, then I consider that I am on that list also.

    Robert Eastwood

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