TSA Confirms Program That Tracks Civilians Who Are Not On Watchlists

Keith Bedford  Globe Staff  file

Keith Bedford Globe Staff file

Those flyers are reviewed by a human team that vets the information and if something in the flyer's background raises concerns, that flyer may be surveilled by Federal Air Marshals. That's a lot of people to be keeping an eye on - people who, I will again remind you, aren't on any kind of government watchlist and haven't committed any real offense.

Contrary to the article "Welcome to the Quiet Skies" published by The Boston Globe, the program doesn't take into account race and religion, and is not meant to surveil ordinary Americans.

Quiet Skies has been active since 2010, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Whistleblower Robert MacLean is an air marshal who was awarded protected whistleblower status after he raised concerns about agency practices in 2003.

The TSA would not provide details on the precise criteria required to flag a passenger for the program.

"When you've got Air Marshals across every flight just randomly looking out for people who are sweating that's when you fall into the danger of wasting money, and people obviously get anxious flying anyway so monitoring behavioural traits alone is insufficient", said Mr Cubbage. They added that it does not take race or religion into account.

The overarching Quiet Skies initiative dates back to 2012, when TSA started screening the identities of domestic passengers - checking travel histories and affiliations - and selecting some for pat-downs or additional searches, Gregory told the Globe.

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"A businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, in one case; a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in another; a fellow federal law enforcement officer, in a third", noted the Globe.

"Quiet Skies represents a major departure for TSA", the newspaper notes.

"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. Those notes are then turned over to TSA personnel, at which point it isn't clear whether they are kept on file, sent to other agencies, destroyed, or used for any other goal.

Travelers coming in and out of the NY and Boston areas are given the most importance, since those cities have been targeted in terrorist attacks, Bilello said.

The TSA, which was created soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, screens on average more than 2 million passengers a day. But John Casaretti, the Air Marshal Association president, is wary; he 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". He also expressed doubt about the program's methods, citing what he called the agency's "record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor passengers who have done nothing wrong".

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

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