The Transportation Security Administration has nearly completed a review of every name on its no-fly list and has scrubbed nearly half of them, the agency’s chief told lawmakers yesterday.
“To assure the accuracy of the no-fly list itself, we will shortly conclude a case-by-case review of every name,” TSA chief Edmund S. Hawley told a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Working with our partners at the Terrorist Screening Center and in the intelligence community and law enforcement, this effort will effectively cut the no-fly list in half.”
He said the scrub was expected to be completed “in the next couple of months,” and that it would “reduce the no-fly list to the bare minimum of people who really, really today represent the threat.”
The no-fly list is prepared by officials at the TSA and the FBI-led multiagency Terrorist Screening Center, based upon the single federal watch list the center maintains.
It is one of two lists that TSA distributes to the airlines, whose staff members administer the process. The other is the “automatic selectee” list. Passengers on the no-fly list are not allowed to board an airplane; those on the selectee list will receive additional screening.
Federal officials told United Press International that a scrub of the much larger automatic selectee list would begin as soon as the no-fly list was finished.
They said the review began last year, after the redrafting of rules for adding terror suspects and their associates to the list. Nominations were being added in line with the new guidance, but officials then had to review the list and scrub names added previously against the new guidelines.
One official cautioned that the 50 percent figure was just an estimate until the review was complete.
Mr. Hawley acknowledged that the review would not solve problems for passengers with names similar to those on one of his agency’s lists, after he was teased by Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and the committee’s former chairman.
Joking that he was “going to get shot when I get home tonight” for raising the issue, the senator said he and his wife were stopped repeatedly for additional scrutiny at airports because her name, Catherine Stevens, was similar to Cat Stevens, a name previously used by the singer Yusuf Islam, who is on a U.S. watch list because of his donations to Palestinian charities linked to Hamas.
Mr. Hawley said aggrieved passengers could apply for the agency’s clear list through an expedited electronic process within 10 days.
“The Catherine Stevens would tell us, and then we’d put a notation in the record that we send to the airlines that said, ‘This is Catherine Stevens; she’s not Cat Stevens, and don’t hassle [her].’
“Unfortunately, it depends airline by airline how their individual systems work as to how effectively that’s done,” he said, adding that the agency continued to work with the airlines on their matching technologies and ability to use the clear list.