Economy

For TSA's "Quiet Skies" Program, Air Marshals Followed Travelers' Every Move

For TSA's

Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary United States citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency. If so, there's a chance that federal air marshals have reported you under a previously undisclosed program called "Quiet Skies".

The Boston Globe on Sunday first reported on the program, which started in 2010. "Currently, the Quiet Skies program does not meet the criteria we find acceptable".

The TSA has not said whether the program has been successful in stopping any terrorist threats.

"In the world of law enforcement, this program's core design is no different than putting a police officer on a beat where intelligence and other information presents the need for watch and deterrence", Gregory said. The program analyzes information on a passenger's travel patterns, and through a system of checks and balances, to include robust oversight, the program effectively adds an additional line of defense to aviation security. On average, air marshals follow and surveil about 35 of them, the Globe reports, citing an internal TSA bulletin.

Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project, said that "these revelations raise profound concerns about whether TSA is conducting pervasive surveillance of travelers without any suspicion of actual wrongdoing".

While the Globe reported that TSA documents state there are around 50 Quiet Skies passengers on USA domestic flights every day. The Federal Air Marshal Service is tasked with investigative work to "detect", "deter" and "defeat" terrorist acts. It said the program was necessary to keep the skies safe. Citing agency documents, it said that all US citizens arriving in the country are screened under Quiet Skies, but travelers being monitored are not notified.

But the program has come under fire, including from people within the agency, who told the Globe it diverts resources from legitimate threats. Additionally, targets may have the same travel patterns as known terrorist suspects or be "possibly affiliated" with someone on a watch list, according to a May bulletin.

A spokesman for the agency said that if a passenger's behaviour is uneventful and the flight goes smoothly, they will not be approached or arrested. The Air Marshal Association President released this statement to the Globe "The Air Marshal Association believes that missions based on recognized intelligence, or in support of ongoing federal investigations, is the proper criteria for flight scheduling".

So, if somebody is "reversing or changing directions" and "stopping while in transit through the airport", or looks like having "changed appearance", then this person might be selected to have air marshals tag you along your route.

TSA has not offered information regarding the success rate of this programme in foiling criminal plots. Documents show that the information is largely kept within TSA and not shared with partner agencies unless "significant derogatory behavior" is observed.



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