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8/20/2004
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Terror List Ties Up Sen. Kennedy

A database mixup held Kennedy at airline gates three times. He had to contact a Homeland Security undersecretary to clear it up.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A top Homeland Security official has apologized to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who was stopped at airports because a name similar to his appeared on the government's no-fly list of terror suspects.

"If they have that kind of difficulty with a member of Congress, how in the world are average Americans, who are getting caught up in this thing, how are they going to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?" Kennedy asked Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson.

The Massachusetts Democrat said he'd been misidentified on the watch list when he tried to board airliners between Washington and Boston. Kennedy said he was stopped five times as he tried to board US Airways shuttles because a name similar to his appeared on a list or his name popped up for additional screening.

Hutchinson, who apologized for "any inconvenience" to the senator, testified Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the need for the federal government to take over the watch lists, which are currently administered by the airlines.

Kennedy said he was stopped at airports in Washington, D.C., and Boston three times in March. Airline agents told him he would not be sold a ticket because his name was on a list.

When he asked the agent why, he was told, "We can't tell you."

Each time, a supervisor recognized Kennedy and got him on the flight. But after the third incident, Kennedy's staff called the Transportation Security Administration and asked to clear up the confusion.

The TSA said a name similar to Kennedy's was on the watch list, and that he was later flagged to go through additional screening. TSA also said that the airlines didn't handle the matter properly.

But twice after contacting TSA, Kennedy was stopped again at the airline counter.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits in San Francisco and Seattle over this issue, demanding that the government explain how wrongly flagged travelers can get off the lists.

Hutchinson said that people who experience problems can call the TSA ombudsman to clear things up.

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