Several reports late last month have revealed that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which provides security primarily at U.S. borders, including airports, has gone to untraditional lengths to track certain passengers, although those passengers have never committed a crime or are on any terrorism watch list.
TSA, according to several confirmed news reports, has been secretly watching travelers as part of what is called “Quiet Skies” since 2010, but only recently has the program received public scrutiny. Under the program, U.S. air marshals follow certain passengers who TSA suspect could have links to terrorism, but who may not have any previous record indicating that.
The tracking can include following passengers into airport bathrooms and monitoring other tendencies, such as sleeping patterns, body odor and facial expressions.
The undercover marshals are required to submit written “minute-by-minute” reports to TSA.
The TSA’s own assessment, reportedly outlined in a bulletin issued in March and obtained by the Boston Globe newspaper, indicates that about 35 people are tracked each day or thousands each year since “Quiet Skies” began operations. Passengers selected for additional screening can remain in the program for up to three months.
There was, up to press time, no known cases of arrests made based on “Quiet Skies”, according to press reports.
The plan appears to have remained a secret for several Caribbean nations, unaware that their citizens may be under stepped-up scrutiny by the U.S. Recent checks with multiple Caribbean officials indicated they were either unaware of specific details of the TSA’s activities or unwilling to officially acknowledge it.
“I may have heard of it, but I would not be able to comment officially on it until we get a letter from the U.S. about the TSA’s program,” a junior government minister from one Caribbean nation, who did not want to be named for this story, told Caribbean Today.
The TSA has defended the program. According to a statement issued to the Washington Post newspaper by James Gregory, a spokesman for the agency, the TSA’s policy “makes sense” as no passenger is selected based on race or religion.
“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 told the newspaper. “When you’re in a tube at 30,000 feet ... it makes sense to put someone there.”
Gregory claimed the TSA “analyzes information on a passenger’s travel patterns while taking the whole picture into account. If that person does all that stuff, and the airplane lands safely and they move on, the behavior will be noted, but they will not be approached or apprehended.”
However, civil rights group have lashed out at “Open Skies”.
“Such surveillance not only makes no sense, it's a waste of taxpayer money and raises constitutional concerns,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated on the social media network Twitter. “Given TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who’ve done nothing wrong, we should remain especially vigilant.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. government currently has more than a million people on a list of terrorism suspects or known terrorists.