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.
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.
Passengers at Chicago's O'Hare airport wait to pass
through a security checkpoint, November 2001.[AFP]
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
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
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.