Air Marshals say people added to watchlists to fill quotas

Published: Friday July 28, 2006

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The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the Chief Privacy Officer of the Department of Homeland Security to investigate a recent news report that federal air marshals are labeling innocent Americans as "suspicious" after being directed to fill a monthly watchlist quotas, RAW STORY has learned.

The Air Marshals Service responded to earlier complaints by indicating that the complaints came from disgruntled Denver employees. However, Denver's KMGH-TV contacted 17 employees in 4 different states, who confirmed the story.

KMGH quotes one Air Marshal as saying, "Our job is to prevent another Sept. 11 from happening. We can't do that. Not under these circumstances, not under these conditions."

Another told the station, "We do not want to come before the media. This is the last hope that we have to get these dangerous policies changed."

U.S. air marshals based in Las Vegas told KMGH 7News in Denver that they are required to submit at least one "Surveillance Detection Report," or SDR, a month. According to the account, SDRs are documents intended to identify terrorist surveillance activity, and can lead to a person being listed on national or international watch lists.

According to the Marshals, whose identities were masked in the report, the quotas are enforced, and affect raises, bonuses, awards and assignments.

"It is something straight out of Orwell," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project in a statement, "if security personnel are really being pressured into entering innocent people into shadowy watch lists for no good reason, and without their knowledge."

The Air Marshals interviewed for the story cited, as an example of the repercussions, one person who was labeled suspicious for taking a picture of Las Vegas through an airplane window.

"Ultimately, no one knows the full extent of how someone might be affected by being identified as a possible terrorist in databases that circulate throughout our security establishment," said ACLU Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani. "But we do know it could affect your ability to fly, to cross international borders, to engage in financial transactions - even to get a job in some circumstances."