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Inside Politics

Kennedy: Airline security risk?

Senator tells of screening stops at airport

From Ed Henry and Mike Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention last month.
Edward Kennedy
Asa Hutchinson
Tom Ridge
Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- -- Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, may be one of the most recognizable politicians in the world, but that didn't stop some airport screeners from treating him as a potential security risk.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on border security Thursday, Kennedy revealed that he was held up at Boston's Logan International Airport several times -- starting in March -- after his name somehow was placed on a security watch list.

During the first incident, Kennedy said someone at the US Airways ticket counter refused to take his Visa credit card and said he couldn't fly to Washington.

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

Kennedy spokesman David Smith told CNN that the person at the counter called a supervisor, who quickly recognized Kennedy and made sure he was allowed on the flight.

A spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security said Kennedy was pulled aside and put through secondary screening before being allowed to fly. The spokesman said the senator was put through secondary screening because there was a "name likeness" to somebody who was of concern.

The same scenario played out two more times before Kennedy's staff finally called DHS officials, according to Kennedy's office. "They promised that steps would be taken to take him off the list," Smith said.

But the same mistake occurred a few more times, Smith said, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge "called to apologize" that the situation had not been rectified.

Smith said the senator mentioned his experience at Thursday's hearing to Undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson because the lawmaker wants to "make sure innocent Americans are not being unfairly treated" by new security measures.

Despite the frustration, Smith said of the senator, "I think he handled it all with good nature."

A DHS spokesman stressed that Kennedy's name is not, and has never been, on a "no-fly" list. The spokesman said Kennedy was pulled aside for secondary screening because he was identified through CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System) criteria.

While CAPPS criteria is officially confidential, it is widely known that passengers are subjected to secondary screening if they pay with cash, buy one-way tickets or buy a ticket at the last minute.

"We have acknowledged in the past the system is an antiquated screening system, and we need a new system that will alleviate situations like this," the DHS spokesman said.

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