New airport surveillance program puts US citizens under spotlight
(AFP/Mark Leffingwell)

A reporter from the Boston Globe has helped lay bare an otherwise hidden program of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): one that targets all US citizens.

The program, called "Quiet Skies," goes beyond previous TSA efforts, including specific watch lists, air marshals, and other actions designed to secure US airways in a post-9/11 world. In the previously undisclosed program, US citizens are tracked and treated as potential terrorists even though they are not otherwise under investigation.

"Quiet Skies represents a major departure for TSA. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency has traditionally placed armed air marshals on routes it considered potentially higher risk, or on flights with a passenger on a terrorist watch list," says the Boston Globe.

They continue, "Deploying air marshals to gather intelligence on civilians not on a terrorist watch list is a new assignment, one that some air marshals say goes beyond the mandate of the US Federal Air Marshal Service. Some also worry that such domestic surveillance might be illegal. Between 2,000 and 3,000 men and women, so-called flying FAMs, work the skies."

The program lays out 15 possible actions that could trigger the tracking of a passenger, though not all 15 were obtained by the Globe, and may not even be fully known by air marshals themselves.

These actions include passengers who seem "abnormally aware" of their surroundings, those who seem to exhibit "excessive fidgeting," an "Adam's apple jump," or a "cold, penetrating stare," and those who might sleep during a flight.

Those who end up triggered by the program, based on the above or other unknown actions, remain on a Quiet Skies watch list for up to 90 days or a total of three encounters.

When someone is flagged under Quiet Skies, a team of Air Marshals is placed on their next flight, and marshals are given a brief dossier on the subject. They then make minute-by-minute notes on the actions of their target.

Subjects are never notified that they are under surveillance.

The program may not only be subject to legal and ethical scrutiny, but also may be an expensive waste of government resources. Meanwhile, the air marshals themselves question thee program itself.

"The American public would be better served if these [air marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended, and violations of federal crimes can be properly and consistently addressed," said John Casaretti, the President of the Air Marshal Association in a statement to the Boston Globe.

According to the report, some people who were surveilled under the program included a businesswoman who had traveled through Turkey, a flight attendant who was on duty at the time, and even another law enforcement officer.

It is unknown if the Quiet Skies program has made the skies any safer since its introduction in March of this year.