US Apologizes to Billionaire Added to Terror No-fly List

"Everyone understands that after the December attempt, the government re-examined a lot of travelers. Ambassador Chagoury has no problem with the government taking a second look at him, and he's pleased that he's been cleared to fly to the United States," said Chagoury's spokesman, Mark Corallo. "What he doesn't understand is the decision by someone in the government to disclose his name to the media and to unfairly suggest that he was a potential threat."

Chagoury said the episode was particularly painful because over the years he has provided significant assistance to the U.S. State Department in diplomatic and overseas matters, especially related to Nigeria.

"I did a lot of that at the American embassy in Nigeria. Always they used to come to me with one problem or another," he said.

Chagoury's case also raises a tantalizing question. If it was difficult for a politically-connected billionaire to restore his privileges to fly into the United States, what about ordinary people entangled in the enhanced screening for the no-fly list?

Ben Wizner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group is working with seven Americans caught in the same no-fly list crackdown as Chagoury. Four are trapped outside the United States and unable to get home.

"If you don't have a private plane or a yacht, it's hard to know what these people are supposed to do," Wizner said. "Some have tried to get in the back door flying to Mexico and Canada and even that hasn't worked."


One of the ACLU's clients, Steven Washburn, 54, a former Air Force officer from New Mexico, said he had been stuck in Ireland for three months, unable to return home because he appeared on the no-fly list sometime after his last U.S. trip in November.

Washburn told the Center for Public Integrity in an interview he worked as a security expert at a company in Saudi Arabia for the last couple of years but wanted to return home with his wife, a Spanish citizen, in February after a brief visit in Ireland with his stepdaughter and new grandchild.

Washburn said he was halted from boarding a direct flight to the United States in February and told he was on the no-fly list. He was interviewed by FBI agents, who told him they had no concern about him and even suggested Washburn get around the no-fly list by flying to Mexico then driving across the border, he said.

Washburn took their advice and boarded a flight to Mexico City. Three hours into the flight, the pilot was ordered to return to London's Heathrow Airport, where Washburn said he was detained, fingerprinted and tested for DNA by Scotland Yard officials. Washburn said he learned the plane was forced to return because it would briefly enter U.S. air space as it approached Mexico, triggering the no-fly restriction.

Washburn, his family and his lawyer said the FBI questioning gave some hints of what might have landed him on the list: the agents discussed his conversion to Islam after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, his recent work in Saudi Arabia, his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that he hailed from New Mexico where the Yemeni-American imam Anwar al-Awlaki -- linked by US. officials to the failed Christmas Day terror plot -- once taught years ago.

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