Yolande Bourgeois does not fit the standard description of a terrorist.
After all, she’s a Cook County judge.
“If you’re looking at me, then who’s looking at the real terrorists out there?” she asks. “What could I possibly have done, to be put on a list?”
The story begins Oct. 13, as Bourgeois was flying back from Cancun with two friends. Because of weather, her flight was diverted to Indianapolis where she had to spend the night. But when it came time to re-board the next day for the short flight to Chicago, things changed. That’s when she received a boarding pass with the designation “SSSS” in the upper left and lower right corners. And that set off alarms with the first TSA agent she met.
“He looked down at it and he looked up at me, and he looked down again and he looked back up at me.” she said “And then he goes, ‘I need a supervisor over here!’”
Bourgeois, who was in Cancun celebrating her 65th birthday, says the supervisor arrived quickly.
“He hands her my documents, she looks at it and she goes, ‘Her?’,” she recalled. “She said, they’ve got you on a known terrorist list, and I said---what??”
What ensued was a full body pat-down, a search through her suitcase, and a demand that she switch on all electronics.
“You know, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on what’s going on over there when you’ve got somebody feeling all over your body,” she said. “And by this time they’ve got six or seven TSA agents, all for me!”
The judge says she had barely noticed the “SSSS” designation on her boarding pass.
“I’m like, who did this to me, who put me on a known terror list? And they all said, it’s the airline.”
“SSSS” stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. A spokesman for American Airlines referred NBC 5 Investigates to the Transportation Security Administration, where spokesman Michael McCarthy said the Indianapolis agent “misspoke”, that it was not the airline which branded the judge with the disheartening security designation, but rather the TSA’s own Secure Flight protocols.
McCarthy said he could not discuss why someone receives the SSSS mark, noting that TSA intentionally keeps its security methods random and unpredictable. While some receive that brand because of certain security triggers, he said, others are selected purely at random.
“I want my name off that list,” the judge said. “That’s what I want---I want it off!”
That might be easier said than done. If her selection was purely random, she might not ever be chosen again. But if there was something about her flight, or her background, which caused her to actually be put on a list, her only choice is to apply for “redress” from the TSA, where travelers can receive a Redress Control Number which can help reduce their chances of making the SSSS list in the future.
Until then, McCarthy said, a traveler’s best bet may be to see if they are chosen again on their next flight.
While Bourgeois, who’s been a judge for ten years, can laugh about her episode, she grows serious when she speaks of the potential ramifications.
“Is anyone safer because I’m on a terror list?” she asks. “I don’t think so!”