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Expand Scope of 'No-Fly' List, 9/11 Panel's Staff Says

September 09, 2004|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The government should convert its "no-fly" list of suspected terrorists into a "no-transport" list that applies to cruise ships, Amtrak and other forms of travel, the Sept. 11 commission staff recommended in a previously unreleased report.

Distributed to Congress this week, the staff report buttresses the commission's transportation recommendations and provides much greater detail -- including suggested deadlines for such improvements as classes in self-defense for flight attendants. The Times obtained a copy Wednesday.

Transportation security should be elevated to a national defense issue, complete with its own version of war games to detect vulnerabilities, the staff concluded. More intensive protective measures should be applied to trains, ships and mass transit, while remaining loopholes in aviation security should be closed. The staff offered no cost estimates, but such an ambitious program could cost billions of dollars.

"These should be looked at as recommendations made by the staff, not approved by the commission, but generally consistent with ours," said Lee H. Hamilton, vice chairman of the panel. "Don't think that the commission looked at them and rejected them.... We just didn't act on them."

Congressional staffers said they were reviewing the 19-page report as lawmakers weighed legislation to adopt the commission's recommendations. That legislation is likely to follow the commission's broad proposals, which represent a bipartisan consensus. Some of the ideas in the staff report are more controversial, said congressional aides, but they may serve as a blueprint for the legislative committees that oversee transportation.

"These staff papers are for the experts," said Hamilton, adding that many lawmakers had requested more specific recommendations on transportation security.

The staff report was originally scheduled for release Aug. 21, when the commission officially closed. But a security review by the White House led to delays. A congressional aide said the document was released in its entirety.

The so-called no-fly list has been a source of continuing controversy because of mix-ups over similarly spelled names, incomplete or erroneous information and the bureaucracy encountered by those who are mistakenly listed when they try to clear their names. Such recognizable figures as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, have been inconvenienced because a similar name was listed.

The government maintains several travel security lists. In addition to the no-fly list, there is a much larger "automatic selectee" list that names people who can fly only after extensive searches at the airport. Kennedy was mistaken for someone with a similar name on the selectee list.

Expanding the use of security lists to other forms of transportation would compound such problems, said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The no-fly list is full of errors, and there is no adequate way of correcting those errors," Steinhardt said. "This needs to be fixed even before we can think of expanding it."

The commission and its staff said reforms were needed to prevent and correct mistakes and to safeguard privacy.

"The public will not accept a more vigorous prescreening system until it is assured that privacy concerns are fully and fairly addressed," said the staff report.

Even if due process and privacy concerns could be addressed, many practical obstacles would have to be overcome.

"Where is the physical infrastructure to apply this to Amtrak?" Steinhardt asked. "Are you going to put a [federal] agent at every gate? There are a lot of rail passengers, and some of them board in fairly obscure locations."

Nonetheless, the commission staff urged the government to broaden the reach of screening by applying computerized passenger profiling to cruise ships and Amtrak, at the very least.

Such measures would form part of a nationwide security strategy for all forms of transportation. The Homeland Security Department has begun such planning and security standards have been issued for mass transit. But the commission staff called for deadlines, close congressional oversight, and the designation of independent organizations to conduct tests to identify weak spots.

Despite the call for a broader approach to transportation security, many of the most detailed recommendations concerned aviation.

The commission staff called for such measures as explosives-resistant containers to carry cargo on airliners, security directors for private airports near big cities such as New York and Washington, and fines for airlines whose pilots neglected to lock cockpit doors in flight.

The staff also addressed continuing dissatisfaction among air marshals about an overly restrictive dress code and other requirements that they said compromised their undercover status. The Homeland Security Department "should take steps to ensure that [marshals] are not obvious to terrorists," the report said.

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