National Security

TSA’s ‘Quiet Skies’ Program Diverts Air Marshals in Unwarranted Surveillance

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an organization that routinely fails to accomplish the most basic tasks entrusted to them by the federal government, has been empowered to conduct warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens on American soil. The federal air marshals tasked with conducting this domestic surveillance have spoken out against the program, highlighting the expense and the number of man hours required to conduct surveillance on travelers that are not suspected of any crimes. This means that rather than conducting missions that directly provide added and quantifiable security to American aviation, already stretched thin air marshals are instead being tasked to conduct operations that yield no fruit.

The program called “Quiet Skies” allows the TSA to identify and target individuals at will, specifically seeking those who are not on terror watch lists or already under investigation. I will say that again louder for those of you in the back: the TSA is targeting American citizens with zero connection to terror watch lists and who are not being investigated by federal agencies for domestic surveillance. Seriously: The clowns that consistently prove that they can’t stop weapons from making it onto planes are taking federal air marshals away from protecting American travelers from terrorists, so that they can observe random, law-abiding Americans.

If a traveler is selected for surveillance under Quiet Skies, a team of air marshals receives a photo and basic information about their target, whom they then follow on their scheduled flight. In addition to recording an individual’s appearance and method of arrival to the airport, marshals are expected to record “behavioral indicators” such as whether an individual has a “cold penetrating stare” or “wide open, staring eyes.” They are also expected to report on whether the person being surveilled was “abnormally aware of surroundings.” It is important to again emphasize that the TSA is tasking the US Federal Air Marshal Service to conduct domestic surveillance and collect information on individuals who have neither committed a crime nor suspected of any criminal behavior. On any given day, there is 40 to 50 people flying that have been identified under Quiet Skies; on average, 35 of these people are followed by air marshals for no known reason.

(Credit: Unsplash/Anete Lūsiņa)

“The Air Marshall Association believes that missions based on recognized intelligence, or in support of ongoing federal investigations, is the proper criteria for flight scheduling. Currently, the Quiet Skies program does not meet the criteria we find acceptable. 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, president of the Air Marshal Association.

Domestic surveillance on American citizens on U.S. soil is serious business, which is usually highly-regulated by federal law. Based on the still undisclosed method for identifying individuals for surveillance, the TSA could very likely be violating the Constitutional rights of American citizens who haven’t done anything to warrant being surveilled while travelling. Given the likely investigation by Congress, already irritated at the TSA’s incompetence, there may be ensuing lawsuits over the agency’s behavior.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Adam P

Adam is an Army Special Operations veteran, with over ten years of active duty service and multiple combat and training deployments to various locations throughout the world.

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