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A Newly-Disclosed TSA Surveillance Program Monitors Air Passengers Even If They Have No Known Terrorist Ties

David Meyer

Do you sweat heavily or use the restroom frequently while flying within the U.S.? If so, there’s a chance that federal air marshals have reported you under a previously undisclosed program called “Quiet Skies.”

The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) confirmed the existence of the domestic surveillance program Sunday, saying marshals have been flagging up suspicious behavior since 2010. The confirmation followed a Boston Globe report that noted there was criticism of the scheme from within the agency.

According to that report, some air marshals say that shadowing travelers who have no known terrorism links is expensive and time-consuming. However, TSA spokesman James Gregory told the Washington Post that it was just like paying extra attention to what goes on in crime hotspots.

“We are no different than the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen,” Gregory said. “When you’re in a tube at 30,000 feet…it makes sense to put someone there.”

Gregory claimed that what’s going on under the Quiet Skies program is not surveillance, because nobody follows the individuals around or listens to their calls. The TSA has not said whether the program has been successful in stopping any terrorist threats.

Under the program, passengers may attract particular attention because of their travel histories, or because of behavior such as sweating, visiting the restroom a lot, sleeping, looking around erratically or having a “cold, penetrating stare,” according to the reports.