Belong to 'Quiet Skies'? Better Hope Not

It's a TSA domestic surveillance program in which marshals keep a close eye on passengers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2018 10:15 AM CDT
You Don't Want to Belong to 'Quiet Skies' Travel Group
Passengers stand in line as they wait to pass through a TSA security checkpoint at JFK International Airport in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

It's called "Quiet Skies" and sounds for all the world like the name of some airline PR initiative. But as the Boston Globe reveals, "Quiet Skies" is actually the name of a TSA domestic surveillance program that has been operating on the down-low. It's not entirely clear how you can end up on this particular watchlist, but if anything about your travel history—say, for example, you're a business person who travels to world hot spots—raises even a hint of suspicion, that's enough. That's when the remarkably detailed surveillance starts. Marshals in the program get a list of people to follow in airports and then onto flights. If they fidget, use the bathroom a lot, use a cellphone, have a "jump" in their Adam's apple or a "cold penetrating stare," or check their reflection in glass (ostensibly to detect being followed), it will be fully documented on a checklist.

TSA isn't saying much about the program, but the Washington Post and CNN have confirmed its existence. "We are no different than the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen," a TSA spokesman tells the Post. "When you're in a tube at 30,000 feet ... it makes sense to put someone there." However, the agency wouldn't divulge details about how people get selected for surveillance, or about the surveillance itself. So how did the Globe get wind of the program in the first place? From marshals themselves who think it's not only a waste of time and resources but perhaps a violation of ordinary people's privacy. "Cannot make this up," reads a text from one marshal who'd been tasked with surveilling a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. (More TSA stories.)

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