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US Air Marshals Are Secretly Shadowing Passengers

US Air Marshals Are Secretly Shadowing Passengers
Jackie Reddy

Some air passengers are being subjected to surveillance by US air marshals as part of a TSA program called Quiet Skies, The Boston Globe reports. The TSA says that this initiative is an attempt to prevent another 9/11-style attack, but there are concerns that the program may violate civil liberties.

Some air passengers are allegedly being subjected to covert surveillance by U.S. air marshals as part of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) initiative known as Quiet Skies, The Boston Globe reports. The program has supposedly been in place since 2012, but the paper reports that, as of March 2018, the administration has “stepped up its efforts, launching the undercover surveillance program, which it calls ‘special mission coverage.’”

According to the outlet, “All US citizens who enter the country after foreign travel are screened for Quiet Skies. The program relies on 15 rules to screen passengers, according to a US Transportation Security Administration document obtained by the GlobeThe document says that “rules may target” people whose travel patterns or behaviors match those of known or suspected terrorists or people “possibly affiliated” with someone on a watch list.

The outlet reports that air marshals monitor selected passengers for certain physical behaviors, such as sweating or fidgeting.

According to documentation obtained by the paper, the end goal of Quiet Skies is to identify “unknown or partially known terrorists”. The outlet reports that, at present, “About 35 people a day are being secretly surveilled by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals,” and adds that “about 5,000 unsuspecting people have been targeted so far.”

This surveillance program has come under fire from those who are concerned about preserving personal privacy as well as civil rights.

Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) has been outspoken in his criticism of the program and was quoted by the outlet as saying, “Quiet Skies is the very definition of Big Brother.”

According to The Telegraphthe TSA has denied that it is in any way compromising civil liberties and has offered reassurance that the initiative is being deployed only as a protective measure.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (7)


  1. speedbrds

    August 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    How do you tell from a suspected passenger who sweats from one like myself who sweats (hyperhydrosis) as a medical condition? Fortunately, I’ve never had any issues with security or anything, but tomorrow could be the day.

  2. jjmoore

    August 8, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    I’m fine with the policy…. safer skies and reduced chance of a terrorist attack trumps any issue I could conceive of regarding civil liberties.

  3. coolcoil

    August 9, 2018 at 10:35 am

    The article did not say that the passengers were chosen because they were sweating. It said that the chosen passengers were watched for behaviors that may indicate that they were involved in criminal behavior. I’ve been pulled aside due to sweating. I was having a low blood sugar attack while in MIA customs and was soaked with sweat. I was pulled aside by a CBP officer and questioned for a few minutes. I was not offended, as I am sure that I looked like I was under a lot of stress and possibly up to no good.

    I don’t see how this violates civil liberties if only public behavior is observed. As far as I know, anybody, even a private citizent, has the right to surveil you while you are in spaces with no reasonable expectation of privacy.

  4. note2001

    August 9, 2018 at 11:26 am

    First off, flying is not a right, it is a privilege. It is in the right of the airports and airlines to make sure everyone behaves properly and if not to have them removed. Surveillance is a modern day fact of life everywhere we go. If you’re innocent, why would it matter that you have an agent shadowing you? The problem only comes if they perceive you as a threat as you do something normal and tackle you.

  5. nadabrainiac

    August 9, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    How is this different from a police officer following your car when you exhibit suspicious behaviour? As long as they can at least fabricate some justification other than ethnicity for their suspicions, I don’t understand how a person’s civil rights are compromised. To avoid being observed and having your behaviour critiqued, you would almost need to stay at home with your curtains closed and all your electronics disabled.

  6. drphun

    August 12, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Surveillance means watching. Shouldn’t everyone expect they might be watched at the airport? Surveillance is a good way to prevent unnecessary detentions by being first sure there is something going on.

  7. bobert24

    August 13, 2018 at 11:09 am

    I’m really big on privacy and my right to it. However, I know that in a public space, other people will be watching me. Private citizen, air marshall, whoever. As long as they’re not also filming me or something like that, I’m fine with it (although technically they have a right to film in public area, but that’s another story). Good police work involves investigating people who you have reason to believe may be a problem. Bad police work is ignoring the obvious signs of trouble and treating everyone exactly the same.

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