We’re learning more tonight about a secret air marshal program, to follow, monitor, and track some American citizens flying in the U.S. People who may have no criminal background and are not on any terror list.
The question is whether it’s good law enforcement, or a violation of privacy.
NBC’s Tom Costello has details on why you might be tracked, and what you should know.
The program is called “Quiet Skies.”
Federal air marshals following two to three dozen Americans every day, through airports and on to planes, even sitting right next to them.
The marshals are told to report back:
- If the traveler changes clothes in a restroom.
- Perspires excessively
- Fidgets, trembles or stares.
- Uses a phone or computer.
Passengers are selected for monitoring if their foreign travel and other factors raise concerns.
- Criminal records
- Curious financial transactions
- Email or phone numbers linked to terror suspects
Among the passengers followed: A businesswoman who was in Turkey, even a flight attendant.
John Halinski the former TSA Deputy Administrator said, “You have over two million people a day that currently travel in and around the United States. You’re looking for a threat that is so small, it’s less than a needle in a haystack.”
The TSA tells NBC News, “The primary purpose of this program is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel.”
We recently talked to TSA Chief David Pekoske about the Air Marshals.
“For passengers, I think they should feel very safe and secure that we have a federal air marshal service that does provide that in-flight security.” Said Pekoske.
But travelers are never told they’ve been followed, their activities documented, raising privacy issues.
“It should go without saying that government agents shouldn’t be monitoring travelers without a good reason for doing so.” Says Hugh Handeyside of the ACLU.
And the air marshals union complains the program is a waste of time. “The American public would be better served if these [marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended…”