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Database snafu puts US Senator on terror watch list

Good thing he wasn't wearing a turban

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US Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts) was prohibited from flying because his name sparked a terror alert, the Associated Press reports. Apparently, the Senator's name came up on a terrorist watch list, or no-fly list, while attempting to board a US Airways shuttle out of Washington.

A vigilant airline clerk refused to allow Kennedy to board. After numerous phone calls, the Senator did manage to get home to Boston, but the same comedy ensued as he attempted to return to Washington, the wire service says.

Kennedy says it took three personal calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and several weeks' time, to get the matter sorted out.

It is not known exactly how Kennedy became mixed up in a national terrorist database - whether by accident, or as a practical joke, or as a Republican dirty trick to keep him out of Boston during the Democratic National Convention.

In any event, the incident illustrates the preposterous susceptibility of national security databases to both snafus and deliberate abuse, though in this case it's not clear which to fault. ®

Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux.

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