The next time you're at the airport, make sure you're on your best behavior. Why? Well, maybe an undercover TSA agent is following you around, noting your every move.
It might sound straight off an Orwellian nightmare, but according to a new report, it is actually happening. It's all in the name of our fight against terrorism, of course, but it does raise concerns about how the U.S. government tracks ordinary citizens like you and me.
Read on and see why this secret TSA program is raising eyebrows.
Travel the Quiet Skies
According to a new Boston Globe report, a previously undisclosed program dubbed Quiet Skies has been tracking ordinary travelers who are not under investigation by any agency nor are they in the Terrorist Screening Database.
The report is based on recently obtained U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) bulletins released in March.
The bulletins describe the Quiet Skies program as a way to thwart threats to commercial aircraft brought by unknown or partially known terrorists.
The program also gives the TSA "broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked."
How targets are selected
The Globe report stated that the Quiet Skies program tasked air marshals with tracking travelers who appear to pose no real threat. These travelers can be anyone - a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, for example, or a flight attendant, or even a federal law enforcement officer.
It is still unclear how the program decides who to include in the program but one common criterion for potential targets is that they “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base."
Other flags include having the same travel patterns as known terror suspects or having possible affiliations to someone on the terrorist watch list.
This means every ordinary American traveling within the U.S. can be subjected to targeted airport and in-flight surveillance by undercover TSA air marshals without their knowledge.
According to the report, these air marshals observe certain behavior - for example, whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a "jump" in their Adam's apple or a "cold penetrating stare" - and document them as part of a report.
These minute-by-minute observations are then sent back to the TSA for evaluation. The TSA can then select a Quiet Skies target based on these reports and a team of air marshals will be placed on the person's next flight.
According to another TSA bulletin, the program relies on 15 rules to screen passengers. The checklist may include the following key observations:
- Reversing or changing directions and/or stopping while in transit through the airport
- Attempting to change appearance by changing clothes, shaving etc. while in the airport or on the plane
- Using the reflection in storefront windows to identify surveillance
- Observing the boarding gate area from afar
- Boarded last
- Observing other people who appear to be observing FAM team and/or subject
- Subject's appearance is different from the information provided
At your service since 2010
If you think that the Quiet Skies program is something new, well think again. It has actually been around for a few years.
In a written statement to the Business Insider, the TSA has officially confirmed that the Quiet Skies program exists and it has been around since 2010. However, the agency defended its efforts to prevent potential acts of terror.
The TSA told Business Insider that the "program is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel." Additionally, the agency said that "the program doesn't take into account race and religion, and it is not intended to surveil ordinary Americans."
An additional line of defense?
In a separate statement, TSA spokesperson James O. Gregory also told The Washington Post that a program like Quiet Skies is an "additional line of defense to aviation security."
Gregory also denied that the program can be considered as a form of surveillance since the TSA is not listening to Quiet Skies' targets phone calls nor are agents following them outside an airport's vicinity.
But still, critics of the program raise a variety of legitimate issues concerning profiling, privacy, and our civil rights.
But what do you think? Is the Quiet Skies program an invasion of your privacy or is it an essential government scheme to protect us against terrorist acts? Drop us a comment!
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