Name of airline captain, child mistaken for suspected terrorists

Officials call on TSA , DHS to correct problems with terror watch list


James Robinson is a retired Air National Guard brigadier general and a commercial pilot for a major airline who flies passenger planes around the country.

He has even been certified by the Transportation Security Administration to carry a weapon into the cockpit as part of the government's defense program should a terrorist try to commandeer a plane.

But there's one problem: James Robinson, the pilot, has difficulty even getting to his plane because his name is on the government's terrorist "watch list."

That means he can't use an airport kiosk to check in; he can't do it online; he can't do it curbside. Instead, like thousands of Americans whose names match a name or alias used by a suspected terrorist on the list, he must go to the ticket counter and have an agent verify that he is James Robinson, the pilot, and not James Robinson, the terrorist.

"Shocking's a good word; frustrating," Robinson -- the pilot -- said. "I'm carrying a weapon, flying a multimillion-dollar jet with passengers, but I'm still screened as, you know, on the terrorist watch list."

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates more than 1 million names have been added to the watch list since the September 11 attacks.

The FBI, which manages the Terrorist Screening Database, disputes that figure. It says that there are about 400,000 actual people on the list and that about 95 percent of those people are not U.S. citizens.

"There's going to come a point in time where everybody's on the list," Robinson said.

Robinson is not the only person with that name flagged on the list.

Since airing a story this summer about how Correspondent Drew Griffin began getting told he was on the watch list -- coincidentally after he wrote a series critical of the TSA's Federal Air Marshal Service -- CNN has received dozens of e-mails and iReport submissions from viewers who also have found themselves on the watch list.

It turns out that three people named "James Robinson" found their names on the list in early 2005. iReport.com: Do you think your name is on the list?

Besides the airline pilot, there's the James Robinson who served as U.S. attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration; and James Robinson of California, who loves tennis, swimming and flying to the East Coast to see his grandmother.

He's 8.

The third-grader has been on the watch list since he was 5 years old. Asked whether he is a terrorist, he said, "I don't know."

Though he doesn't even know what a terrorist is, he is embarrassed that trips to the airport cause a ruckus, said his mother, Denise Robinson.

Denise Robinson said that no one in the government even told her her son is on the watch list but that it wasn't hard to figure out. Checking in at curbside three years ago, the family was told they couldn't get boarding passes and were hustled to the ticket counter.

She said the ticket agent made a number of phone calls and kept asking which among her husband and two sons was James.

"And all of a sudden he says, 'How old is he?' " Robinson recounted. She said she responded numerous times, "He's 5."

The agent handed them paperwork and refused to tell them what the problem was but urged them to fill out the forms. The documents were Department of Homeland Security paperwork to get off the watch list.

Not knowing which of the three might be targeted, she sent in the required documents for the entire family -- and got back one letter, addressed to James.

Congress has demanded that the TSA and Homeland Security fix the problems with the list that are making travel so difficult for so many Americans. Prominent lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and civil rights leader-turned-Georgia congressman John Lewis, also have encountered watch list difficulties.

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