Could You be on U.S. Terror Watch List?

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," July 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

E.D. HILL, HOST: Putting on his trip, he packed his bags, went to the airport, but then he had to, and continues to have to jump through hoops just to get on the plane. Well, you may have guessed it's because his name is on the government's terror watch list. But you wouldn't expect the person getting so much scrutiny is the Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor.

Here now is former assistant attorney general, Jim Robinson.

Thanks for being with us.


Video: Watch E.D. Hill's interview

HILL: All right. Any idea why you're on the list?

ROBINSON: No. I understand there is a James K. Robinson on the list and I'm probably not that person, since after going through the hassle, I do eventually get a boarding pass.

HILL: Now, what happens when you tried to get your name off the list?

ROBINSON: Well, I filled out the TSA forms, sent in copies of my passport and my driver's license and my voter's registration card and frankly.

HILL: How long ago?

ROBINSON: I did that in May of 2005.

HILL: Three years ago?


HILL: What's happened since then?

ROBINSON: Nothing has really changed.

HILL: Wow. You know, you hear this, and we read these stories about it. A number of Americans seem to be incorrectly put on the list because of a similar or even same last names as those used by terrorists. One case, there was a suspected terrorist that, I think, used the nun's last name as an alias and the nun keeps on having trouble.

But, surely, they can tell the difference. So, why so many errors?

ROBINSON: I think they can tell the difference, and eventually, you can be identified as not the person apparently, at least I am, after going through the normal rigmarole that you have to go through if you're misidentified.

HILL: Now, some say that the names of the worst terrorists don't make it on the list and this sounds kind of crazy, but the reasoning is, that officials fear the lists are floating around and that those lists then could alert the people they're looking for. Now, is that a valid concern? Does that basically short circuit the goal of the list?

ROBINSON: Well, I think it does short circuit the goal, which is to keep terrorists and suspected terrorists from flying. The GAO has done a report on all of this, a study, and they found that a number of suspected and known terrorists haven't been on the list. And there's some serious doubt as to the accuracy of the thousands and thousands of people who are on the list.

And then there's the misidentification problem that I and others continue to have. And they claim they have a process that they're going to fix this, so those of us who are misidentified — that's the term they use — are not inconvenienced, but so far, they haven't done it.

HILL: I'm not sure how you misidentify Senator Ted Stevens' wife, "Cat" Stevens, short for Catherine, with Cat Stevens, the former pop singer. I'm not sure how you look at the two of them side by side, no (INAUDIBLE) there. That's him. And I guarantee Mrs. Stevens is lovely and looks nothing like that.

But let me ask you, the bottom line — do you think that this list does good?

ROBINSON: Well, I know the intention is to do good. I have some doubts and, I think, one of the problems with my name coming up and others like it coming up, and yet known terrorists are not being on the list, that it undermines the credibility of the entire list and the entire efforts.

I got an e-mail over the weekend from another James K. Robinson, a retired brigadier general, who's an airline pilot, who is authorized by TSA to have a firearm in the cockpit, and he and I are both in the same boat. We both got caught in this mess.

HILL: So, he can fly the plane, legally armed, but he can't board the plane?

ROBINSON: Well, he can aboard it, but only by going through the problem that I go through. Whenever you have — what happens, you can't get an electronic voting pass either at the kiosk or at home, you can't check your bags at the curbside. You have to stand in line, see somebody. They have to make a call, and eventually they go through your birthday or otherwise, you tend to get through but I hope they fix the problem.

HILL: Jim Robinson, you look safe to you. It's all I can say.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

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