No-fly list checked for accuracy

Updated: 2007-01-18 11:41

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is checking the accuracy of a watch list of suspected terrorists banned from traveling on airliners in the US and will probably cut the list in half, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.

Passengers at Chicago's O'Hare airport wait to pass through a security checkpoint, November 2001.[AFP]
Kip Hawley told Congress that the more accurate list, combined with a new passenger screening system, should take care of most incidents of people wrongly being prevented from boarding a flight or frequently being picked out for additional scrutiny.

A "no-fly" list of suspected terrorists and criminals considered too dangerous to travel on commercial airliners in this country has existed for decades. But since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the list expanded. Tightened security procedures have led to closer scrutiny of air travelers and resulted in many complaints.

The TSA has been working with intelligence agencies and the FBI to improve the watch list. Before the 9/11 attacks, almost every intelligence agency had its own list of undesirables and resisted sharing it with other agencies.

Even cutting the list in half is "nice but not all that meaningful," said Barry Steinhardt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. He noted that various estimates of the list's size, which is classified, have ranged from 50,000 to 350,000 names.

"Cutting a list of 350,000 names is not all that impressive," Steinhardt added.

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Hawley ran into inquiries from lawmakers with family members or friends who had encountered problems at airport checkpoints.

Among them was Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who complained that his wife, Catherine, was being identified as "Cat" Stevens and frequently stopped due to confusion with the former name of the folk singer now known as Yusuf Islam, whose name is on the list. In 2004 he was denied entry into the US, but officials declined to explain why.

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