Domestic spying program is following travelers not on a watch list

If you’re planning on flying, try not to fidget, use a computer, reverse your direction in an airport, have a “jump” in your Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare.” Otherwise, you might be the target of a secret spying program that is shadowing unsuspecting regular travelers, the details of which were revealed today by the Boston Globe.

The program is supposed to focus on “known or partially known” terrorists, but some air marshals have privately told the Globe they’re following normal passengers.

When someone on the Quiet Skies list is selected for surveillance, a team of air marshals is placed on the person’s next flight. The team receives a file containing a photo and basic information — such as date and place of birth — about the target, according to agency documents.

The teams track citizens on domestic flights, to or from dozens of cities big and small — such as Boston and Harrisburg, Pa., Washington, D.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. — taking notes on whether travelers use a phone, go to the bathroom, chat with others, or change clothes, according to documents and people within the department.

The TSA appears to be confirming the existence of the domestic surveillance program, but refuses to discuss details. The Globe says Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is one of the airports where the surveillance teams work.

The Globe says it’s a new tactic in which civilians not on a terrorist watch list are followed by about 2,000 to 3,000 air marshals nationwide.

“What we are doing is troubling and raising some serious questions as to the validity and legality of what we are doing and how we are doing it,” one marshal wrote to colleagues in a text message obtained by the newspaper.

“If TSA is using proxies for race or religion to single out travelers for surveillance, that could violate the travelers’ constitutional rights,” an ACLU official said. “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.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said U.S. citizens don’t give up their right to privacy just because they’re 30,000 feet in the air.

It’s a waste of money and resources, according to John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association.

“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.”

The program, called Quiet Skies, is an expansion of domestic surveillance by the TSA and air marshals, who previously only tracked travelers on a watch list.

Now, everyone is on a watch list.

  • Gary F

    Just think, certain groups want to take away certain Constitutional rights using this list without due process.

    Coming in and out of Canada this week I had my photo taken both entering and leaving at a kiosk and answered some questions. AND, still have to talk to custom’s agent.

    • You need to up your Canadian game, I have some extra pucks you can carry along during your next flight there.

      • Jeff


        • More like a good cover story since Canada is one of the two main puck manufacturing countries (the other being Slovakia).

          Bring hockey gear and they just let you glide through customs.


  • MrE85

    Whenever I traveled on civilian airlines on military orders, they always came with the words “Authorized to carry concealed weapons” stamped on the top. I never was packing heat, but it certainly earned me looks from the flight crew and ticket handlers.

    Back on topic, the president who finally reigns in the TSA is going to be hero with many of the flying public.

    • Jim in RF

      The TSA is the new Post Office with their bureaucracy, silly rules, and contempt for customers.

      • MrE85

        I must be one of the rare people who like our postal service.

        • 212944

          Nope. Far from alone.

          Personally, I would like to see the USPS add postal banking services at each branch.

        • It’s incredibly efficient.

        • jon

          It’s not the postal service, it’s the post office.

          The over all service is great, stuff delivered to my door cheaply.
          First class letters picked up at my door, or I can drop them off in blue boxes all over the place.

          Heck if you are a regular shipper with the whole shipping setup, you are still doing great….

          But the occasional shipper, the occasional thing you need to go into the post office itself for… that’s a different story…

          • Kassie

            I’ve never had a problem in a post office. I ship things a couple times a year and it is always quick and efficient. Around the holidays you may wait a bit, but I wait at stores around Christmas too. I’ll take the post office over Target to Trader Joes every day of the week.

      • “their bureaucracy, silly rules, and contempt for customers.”

        I’ve never had those experiences at any of my local post offices. And I was using two of them a few times each week for several years when selling antique postcards on eBay. I always found the postal clerks to be helpful and patient.

  • Rob

    What, they left armpit scratching and nose picking off the list of suspect behaviors?

    • Gary F

      Especially if you use the same hand for both.

  • AL287

    >>Now, everyone is on a watch list.<<

    Another valid reason to drive or take the train. Getting there faster is getting scarier by the minute.

    Are we living in a constitutional democracy anymore?

    Edit: A plot worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

  • Jeff

    If they’re going to violate my rights it would be nice to know in case I forget my phone charger or something I’d at least have someone to ask.or if I need someone I can trust to watch my bags while I’m in the restroom.

  • Barton

    “Cold penetrating stare?” Is this different than the horribly named “resting b!+!h face?” Because if it isn’t, they are going to be following around a lot of women who are trying to give off the vibe of “do not bother me.”

  • D.Robot

    So if you act or look suspicious in an airport, they’re going to follow and observe you….. And?

    If you walk into a bank or casino and act or look suspicious, do you think security is likely to watch and even follow you?

    I’m guessing that if I worked in security in any of the above places, I’d probably be on the lookout for suspicious people. Somehow that’s just what I imagine to be part of the job, a certain level of anticipating, not just reacting to situations.