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No-fly list almost grounded Kennedy, he tells hearing

WASHINGTON -- A ticket agent with US Airways tried to prevent Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, from boarding a shuttle in March because his name showed up on a Department of Homeland Security ''no-fly" terrorist watch-list, Kennedy told a committee hearing yesterday.

Although he eventually was allowed onto the flight when a high-level supervisor recognized him, Kennedy said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on border security, the same thing occurred the next time he tried to fly.

''I said, 'I've been getting on this plane for 42 years,' " Kennedy remarked to laughter. '' 'Why can't I get on the plane back to Washington?' "

A Kennedy spokesman, David Smith, said the senator was halted by the no-fly list three times before his staff called the Transportation Security Administration. Although the TSA assured Kennedy's staff that the problem would be taken care of, the senator was halted by the no-fly list on several more occasions.

Finally, in early April, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called Kennedy to apologize, and the problem stopped.

''He told the story to underscore the point that . . . if a member of Congress is having this much trouble getting a name off the list that doesn't belong there, then what kind of problems are citizens having?" Smith said.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in April seeking to force the TSA to develop a resolution for people mistakenly singled out for screening.

Amy Von Walter, a TSA spokeswoman, said the incidents did not mean Kennedy was considered a terrorism risk. Rather, it meant someone else who had a similar name or used an alias similar to the senator's name had prompted concern.

''Senator Kennedy is not and has never been on the no-fly list," Von Walter said.

She said a citizen who experiences a similar problem can contact the department's Ombudsman Office.

Asked whether the addition of ''Edward Kennedy" to the no-fly list could have been a prank aimed at the senator, Von Walter said, ''Absolutely not."

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