Visit the No-Fly Fiasco special section.
"I'm a terrorist, apparently," said Thompson, an ATM technician. "It's a little disconcerting."
He is just one of 20 passengers named John Thompson in Colorado interviewed by 9NEWS who say they have problems getting on airplanes.
They have the same name as a terrorist on the government's No-Fly List. They're false matches.
The actual John Thompson on the watch list is a Loyalist member of the Ulster Defense Regiment who was charged with possession of weapons with intent to commit a terrorist act in Belfast, Ireland in 2002.
"To detain every one of 100,000 or 300,000 John Thompsons in the United States every time we fly is just a bunch of bureaucratic red tape," said John Thompson, who works at an engineering consulting firm in Colorado Springs.
"I mean, it doesn't help anybody. It doesn't make me feel any safer."
Another John Thompson who lives in Castle Rock said he was screened for an hour and missed his flight.
"Some alarms went off and I had the military come up and I went through multiple levels of screening, including unpacking all of my suitcases in front of me," said Thompson. "It's embarrassing."
To make matters worse, his father and son are also named John Thompson and they need to travel frequently for soccer games.
"When we all go it's just hectic, very hectic," said the 15-year-old soccer player. "It takes forever to do anything."
When his father complained, an airline attendant told him to change his name.
The terrorist watch list is also tripping up other passengers, including 5th grader Alex Murphy and his dad Chuck, an editor at the Denver Post.
"It's silly," said Alex. "I'm 10."
A program could be released in early 2008 that will solve some of the misidentifications and other problems with the terrorist watch list, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
The program, called Secure Flight, would give the Transportation Security Administration direct control over the watch list.
Under the program, the airlines would send passenger data to the TSA 72 hours before a flight, check it against the watch list and transmit the results back to the airlines.
Currently, airlines have the job of matching passenger information against the No-Fly List.
But the airlines initially are only provided the names of the terrorists, not dates of birth, according to Joe Trento of the National Security News Service (NSNS) in Washington, D.C.
Without dates of birth, Trento says the airlines can't tell the difference between the terrorist John Thompson and the innocent John Thompsons.
"This list is so embarrassing and such a disaster for the U.S. Government because it reveals something far deeper," said Trento.
"It's just vast incompetence of putting together a simple list of terrorists."
Trento, his wife Susan and the NSNS obtained a copy of the classified No-Fly List in March 2006 and wrote a book about their findings called Unsafe at Any Altitude.
They discovered the list contained the names of 15 of the 19 dead 9/11 hijackers and does not contain some of the names of living terrorists, such as David Belfield, an American turned Iranian assassin who admitted to killing a former Iranian diplomat in Washington, D.C. in 1980.
An audit by the U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) in September also found widespread problems with the watch list.
The report said 38 percent of the records examined were inaccurate, incomplete or out of date.
Even a single omission or inaccuracy in the watch list records can have enormous consequences, according to the DOJ OIG report.
The watch list is compiled by analysts in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, or the TSC, in a classified location in Northern Virginia.
Information pours into the center 24/7 about known and suspected terrorists from 12 agencies like the CIA.
Those deemed to be a threat to commercial aircraft are forwarded as a No-Fly List to the TSA and the airlines.
Today the Terrorist Watch List is more than 755,000 names long, raising questions about its size and effectiveness, according the a new government report.
The Government Accountability Office report found the list has been growing by 200,000 names a year since 2004.
The GAO wrote the government "lacks an up-to-date strategy and implementation plan for optimizing use of the terrorist watch list."
The investigating arm of Congress recommended the government form a new plan, set new goals and make sure that needed changes are implemented.
"There's certainly problems with the watch list. There's duplications, there's people that shouldn't be there," said Cathleen Berrick, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the Government Accountability Office.
"We talked about the need to clean up the watch list," Berrick continued.
Berrick says the TSC is taking steps to do that. While the TSC hopes that will be completed at the end of the year, the GAO thinks it could take much longer.
"We will never be satisfied until the database is completely thorough, current and accurate," said Leonard Boyle, Director of the TSC.
Some of the blame for the misidentifications lies with the airlines, said Berrick.
The airlines use their own computer systems to match passenger data against the No-Fly List, some which are complicated and some which are simple.
"I think the fact that you can fly on one air carrier and be a potential match and fly on another one and not be a potential match just goes to show the system isn't perfect," said Berrick.
Trento agrees that airlines should be doing more to help stop the false matches.
"There's almost nobody pulling for the flying public," said Trento.
"The airline that's collecting money from the passenger ought to be the passengers' champion. And instead, it's quite the reverse."
With the new Secure Flight program, passengers will have to give their full names when they book a ticket.
They would also have the option of giving the TSA their date of birth and their gender.
That information could prevent 99.5 percent of the misidentifications, according to the TSA.
"Through its Secure Flight program, TSA plans to streamline and improve the process by taking on this responsibility rather than leaving it to dozens of different air carriers," said Kip Hawley, TSA administrator.
"The result will be better security, a more consistent passenger process and a reduction in potential misidentifications," he said.
But a GAO audit of Secure Flight reported that private information could be compromised.
The GAO said the current air carrier prescreening process and its successor Secure Flight won't stop terrorists from boarding planes if they use different names and fake identification.
"Secure Flight wasn't designed to detect people who were either creating a false identity or stealing someone else's identity, so it's not going to detect either identity theft or fraud," said Berrick.
The GAO has directed the TSA to put privacy policies in place before the program is released.
"They're supposed to be safeguarding our country. They ought to be able to safeguard our personal information," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D, CO-7), who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee.
"You need more specific information, but you have to protect it, you have to safeguard it," he said.
Perlmutter says Congress has held up the release of Secure Flight to make sure that privacy and other problems have been fixed first.
Secure Flight will not harm personal privacy, according to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"It's not going to rely on collecting commercial data, it's not going to assign a risk score to passengers and it's not going to try to predict behavior," said Chertoff in an August 2007 press conference about the program.
The TSA plans to delete the personal information within seven days of receiving it, according to Carrie Harmon, TSA spokesperson.
Still, the risk of identity fraud gives passengers who are false matches like Chuck Murphy more to worry about.
"Obviously, it's out of the frying pan into the fire," said Murphy, a Denver Post editor who gets delayed when he travels to cover news stories.
"In order to solve what is essentially an inconvenience, then to expose myself to identity theft is lunacy," Murphy said.
He and several other travelers who are false matches told 9NEWS they've tried, but can't get off the list.
They filled out forms in the TSA's Traveler Redress Program but still have trouble getting on airplanes.
"Every time you deal with the TSA, you feel like you're in this bureaucratic mess, that nobody cares and no one is going to fix anything," said John Thompson of Colorado Springs.
A decorated vietnam veteran told 9NEWS he's been trying for four years to get his teenage sons off the list.
"I called the number that was there, I sent e-mails to all the people, I never got any response out of them," said Terry Thompson.
Terry finally got his son David cleared off the list after he complained to U.S. Senator Ken Salazar's (D-Colorado) office, but his son John still gets flagged.
"They might not even be stopping the bad guys," said 18-year-old John Thompson. "They might just be stopping all the good guys."
The TSA's Traveler Redress Program received 55,000 complaints through June 2007, according to Harmon.
"It's a nightmare, it's your worst fears about government," said author Trento about the Redress Program.
"For the average person who gets on the No-Fly List because of the common name, common birth date or some other problem, you're just screwed."
Perlmutter says it's disappointing to learn the program isn't working well.
"At the end of the day, we're trying to make the skies of this country safer for people to travel," said Perlmutter.
"But we want to do it in a way that doesn't continually show that it's not effective, that it's picking the wrong people."
While the TSA said the No-Fly List has stopped terrorists from getting on planes, a new GAO report found others have gotten on board.
The TSA does not know how many of the suspects on the list may have slipped through screening and boarding domestic flights, according to the GAO report released in late October.
TSA data also shows "a number of individuals" on the No-Fly List boarded international flights bound for the U.S. Several planes had to be diverted once officials realized the terrorists were on board, according to the GAO.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff maintains the Secure Flight program will keep terrorists off planes.
"The Department of Homeland Security will provide watch list checks against verified passenger data in order to determine whether someone who is on that flight should not be allowed to take off on the airplane," said Chertoff.
"It will eliminate plane diversions and de-planing due to watch list concerns."
The TSA says if Congress funds Secure Flight, it can begin testing the program in early 2008.
"We've got the program in good shape," said Hawley during a Congressional hearing in October.
"It will come down to the funding level in fiscal 2008 to see how fast we can implement it."
The fiscal 2008 House bill includes $25 million for Secure Flight, while the Senate bill would set aside $28 million for the program.
The GAO told 9NEWS depending on funding, it may not be released until 2012.
The program has cost taxpayers $200 million so far.
"We should be getting a good system for that amount of money and I know that in Congress, we're going to be watching the TSC and the TSA closely to make sure they put this money to good use," said Perlmutter.
9NEWS requested interviews with Leonard Boyle, director of the Terrorist Screening Center numerous times over four months, but he refused all requests.
"Due to time constraints leading a large federal agency keeping Americans safe, he is unable to accommodate your request," said Michelle Petrovich, public information officer for the TSC.
The 9/11 Commission directed the creation of Secure Flight in 2003.
The program is based in a site in Annapolis Junction, Md.
An exact back-up system is based in Colorado Springs and staffed with analysts, hardware and a management team, according to the GAO.
(Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved)