If someday it may happen that a victim must be found

I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list

Of society’s offenders who may well be underground

And who never would be missed, they never would be missed.

“I’ve Got a Little List”, from The Mikado

Slashdot, BoingBoing, and fellow web-journalist Matt Lavine report that Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy recently found himself on the Transportation Security Administration’s “no-fly” terrorism-prevention list. According to the articles, this led to the esteemed Senator being stopped and questioned no fewer than five times at the airport—and it took him three weeks to get his name off that list.

While I’m sure that my staunchly Republican father (who greatly dislikes Senator Kennedy) is getting a great big guffaw out of this, it’s frankly quite worrying to me—and I’d say the same thing if it were some prominent Republican politician who had hit the list. If one of the most powerful Senators in Washington (not to mention most easily recognizable due to his oft-caricatured accent and face) can get on that list by mistake, be stopped five times at airports because of it—and it takes him, with all his power and connections, three whole weeks to get removed—then what chance does an ordinary, powerless citizen have if he shows up on it by mistake?

A Kennedy spokesman said that the error “had not been politically motivated,” and I believe him. Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence, after all. I don’t envy the airport officials who had to enforce the list, as they would have been in a bit of a catch-22—either enforce the list against a Senator, or else open themselves to accusations of partiality. After all, the list has to apply to everyone, and we wouldn’t want terrorists to think they could slip by simply by disguising themselves as Ted Kennedy, would we?

Elsewhere, an anonymous source said the block had happened because a suspected terrorist had been travelling under the pseudonym “T. Kennedy.” Undoubtedly snickering to himself all the while. I wonder if he is, even now, chortling at hearing about the mix-up he caused. And I wonder if it is uncharitable of me to suggest that would-be terrorists should perhaps start travelling under the names of “G. Bush,” “D. Cheney,” “T. Ridge,” “C. Rice,” etc. now?

In related news, paranoid reporter Annie Jacobsen (whom I previously mentioned in my “What About Bob?” entry) continues her delusional tirades against harmless Middle Eastern air travellers. Apparently she’s up to the fifth installment by now. Likewise, Salon’s pseudonymous pilot columnist Patrick Smith has written three more installments calmly debunking her claims (find them here, here, and here). You’ll have to view a 30-second advertisement (or be a Salon subscriber) before you can read them, but it’s well worth it.

I’m afraid I’ve just about given up on air travel. I doubt I’d refuse a free ticket if someone offered it to me and I needed it, but I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to take a plane anywhere any time soon—and perhaps I’d go out of my way not to have to. Unlike Ms. Jacobsen, however, it’s not out of fear of terrorists—it’s out of fear of fear of terrorists. Theoretically, as an innocent person I shouldn’t have anything to worry about—but tell that to Ted Kennedy.

Update: According to another Slashdot story, 9-term Democratic Representative John Lewis has had similar difficulties.