updated 9/23/2004 7:32:14 PM ET 2004-09-23T23:32:14

Three years ago, two suspected terrorists known to the U.S. government breezed through security at Dulles airport and boarded a plane. They had not been put on the government's "no-fly" list, and that day, they crashed their plane into the Pentagon.

Now, in a report obtained by NBC News, a government watchdog warns the problem is still not fixed. The "No-fly" list still includes only suspected terrorists "who pose threats to civil aviation" — not all suspected terrorists.

"It's just plain wrong," says 9/11 commissioner Slade Gorton.

He calls the policy outrageous.

"The potential consequences are that terrorists can still get on aircraft in the United States," says Gorton.

On 9/11, only a dozen names were on the "No-fly" list. Now there are about 3,500. But that’s only a fraction of more than 300,000 names on the government's main list of suspected terrorists and associates.

Counter-terrorism experts insist that all suspected terrorists should be banned from planes.

"They could be couriers or they could be operatives or they could be suicide bombers. It doesn't matter. You have to keep them all off," says terrorism expert and NBC News analyst Roger Cressey.

The report also criticizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for "not playing a lead role" in ending turf battles and not forcing agencies to work together on one of the most important post-9/11 reforms — consolidating all terror watch lists.

Even with a new terrorist tracking center, there still is no single list. Border agents say they sometimes have to check as many as eight databases.

"It's mind-boggling to me that they have not made more effort to do something that is so fundamental," says T.J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol Union.

A Department of Homeland Security official acknowledges the "no-fly" list is "imperfect," and eventually there will be one list. But Homeland Security argues the delay in consolidating terror watch lists is mostly the responsibility of the FBI. The FBI says the combined list will be ready by the end of the year.


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