How A Journalist Ended Up On A Terror Watch List

Sep 28, 2014
Originally published on September 28, 2014 6:43 pm
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U.S. officials have publicly worried that an American will travel to Syria to join ISIS, learn deadly skills and then come back home to carry out an attack. That has apparently put some extra scrutiny on international travelers, including one unlikely person - Stephen Hayes.

Hayes is a senior writer with the conservative Weekly Standard and a frequent guest on Fox News. Recently, he's had to go through much more thorough security checks when he flies. He's been told that the Department of Homeland Security has placed him on a terror watch list. I asked Hayes why he thought he'd been selected.

STEPHEN HAYES: I believe I got on the list because I took a trip to Turkey with my wife - a one-way flight into Istanbul. And then we flew out of Athens a couple weeks later. And I believe they're flagging people who are flying in and out of Turkey - Americans, in particular - because it's the main transit point for potential jihadists going to Syria.

RATH: And so a one-way ticket is a little bit fishy-looking.

HAYES: Apparently that raised some alarm. And several of the TSA officers that I've spoken to since then said, yeah, that would do it.

RATH: Stephen, you're on TV pretty regularly. Has anybody recognized you during the intense screenings?

HAYES: You know, it was funny. There was a gentleman who works for TSA - was not, unfortunately for me, the supervisor - who came over and said, hey, you know, I enjoy watching you on Fox News, and, nice to have you come through the airport. And I said, well, do you believe that I'm on this list. And he kind of shook his head and - nothing much I could do for you. Sorry.

RATH: Have you been able to get an official response about why you're on the list?

HAYES: I haven't gotten an official response. In fact, I was just able - three or four days after I initially tried to get a redress number, which is something you can do through the Department of Homeland Security - I finally just got one, so I'm working on getting an official response. And of course, I'd like to know how I got on the list and importantly, how the heck I get off the list. You know, talking to people who have been through this process, it can take weeks, months or, in some cases, even years to actually be taken off the list. Needless to say, I'm hoping mine will be faster than that.

RATH: Stephen, has this experience changed how you feel about the TSA and homeland security?

HAYES: In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. I mean, I understand the need for scrutiny. But it does seem a little silly that just a one-way trip can get you on a list and - you know, I've now made several trips within the United States since then - keep me on the list.

But I was, you know, sort of ambivalent - even with the founding of the Department of Homeland Security, was somewhat skeptical that another layer of bureaucracy was actually going to solve the problems or enhance our security. And I think that is, in some ways, what we're seeing. It's a large, lumbering, inefficient bureaucracy that hasn't been effectively streamlined and, I think, leads, in some cases, to outcomes like this one.

RATH: And, Stephen, finally - just for the record - you have no plans to go abroad to perpetrate any kind of terrorist activity?

HAYES: I can say definitively I am not a terrorist. I have no plans to be a terrorist anytime soon. (Laughter).

RATH: Excellent. Good to have that on the record. That's Stephen Hayes. He's a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. Steve, I'm sure you'll be keeping us posted on Twitter. Thank you so much.

HAYES: You bet. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.