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The TSA is using undercover air marshals to surveil unsuspecting travelers

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Interior of airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off.

A domestic surveillance program called Quiet Skies—which is operated by the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, and was revealed Saturday in a “blockbuster” Boston Globe exposé—is provoking strong criticism, with the ACLU asserting that “such surveillance not only makes no sense, it’s a waste of taxpayer money and raises constitutional concerns.”

“Already under Quiet Skies, thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance,” the Globe reports, citing documents and people within the department. The program, which launched in March, uses armed federal air marshals to covertly monitor how U.S. citizens behave on commercial domestic flights.

The undercover marshals are required to take “notes on whether travelers use a phone, go to the bathroom, chat with others, or change clothes.” In their reports to TSA, marshals may “document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a ‘jump’ in their Adam’s apple or a ‘cold penetrating stare,’ among other behaviors,” according to the Globe‘s review of agency records.

Although TSA declined to even confirm the existence of Quiet Skies—a spokesman claimed disclosing such information “would make passengers less safe”—in addition obtaining to internal records, the Globe spoke with marshals who “say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat—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.”

“Quiet Skies represents a major departure for TSA,” the newspaper notes. “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. 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 U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service. Some also worry that such domestic surveillance might be illegal.”

Flying in the Quiet Skies

“All U.S. citizens who enter the country are automatically screened for inclusion in Quiet Skies—their travel patterns and affiliations are checked and their names run against a terrorist watch list and other databases,” the Globe reports.

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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.”

“If TSA is using proxies for race or religion to single out travelers for surveillance, that could violate the travelers’ constitutional rights,” he explained. “These concerns are all the more acute because of TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong.”

Readers, too, raised civil rights concerns—one blogger denounced it as “a creepy violation of constitutional rights,” while others called it “disquieting” and “disturbing.”

Alongside its written report, the Globe published a video about Quiet Skies:

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Establishment Dems pressuring new congress members to attend AIPAC Israel junket: report

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For years, freshman Democratic lawmakers have faced pressure to attend an AIPAC sponsored trip to Israel, where they were denied access to Gaza and other territories controlled by Israel.

The pressure remains stronger than ever today, reports The Intercept, even as Israel's mideast policy is increasingly questioned.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) assured AIPAC that this year the trip would be as well attended as it has been previously. “Like many of you, I’ve traveled to the communities in the south of Israel that have endured rockets and tunnels. I’ve traveled with over 150 of my fellow Democratic members of Congress to meet with those who live under the constant threat of terror,” he said in an April address to AIPAC.

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Trump leveled by retired general for making Iran war decisions based on advice from Fox News hosts

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During a panel discussion on the increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran after a drone was shot down by the Middle Eastern country in international airspace, a retired general claimed he was worried about Donald Trump's response based upon who it appears the president listens to when it comes to advice.

Speaking with host John Berman, retired Lt. General Mark Hertling warned that the shootdown was a dangerous provocation.

"It's huge, John," Hertling explained. "You can go all the way from backing down completely to a full-scale war -- that's what's dangerous about this situation."

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DOJ money laundering probe of Deutsche Bank includes Kushner transactions: report

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is conducting a criminal investigation of possible money laundering violations by Deutsche Bank, and the New York Times is reporting that the probe will include taking a look at some 2016 transactions involving Kushner Cos. — the business owned by the family of Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

In banking, reports of possibly suspicious activity are known as “suspicious activity reports,” and the DOJ is investigating why Deutsche Bank prepared such alerts for activity involving Kushner Cos. but did not file them. A key figure in the DOJ’s investigation is whistleblower Tammy McFadden, who helped prepare suspicious activity reports for Kushner Cos.-related transactions. McFadden is a former compliance officer for Deutsche Bank.

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