It turns out the friendly skies may not be as chummy as you think. At least not if you get secretly followed and spied on by a Federal Air Marshal while onboard a flight.
On Saturday, the Boston Globe reported on a secret Transportation Security Administration program called "Quiet Skies." The program has been around since 2010, and according to an internal TSA bulletin, its purpose is to decrease threats by "unknown or partially known terrorists."
So, what does the program actually entail? All U.S. citizens who enter the country have their travel patterns and affiliations automatically screened and checked against terrorist databases. If potential red flags appear in the screening, that person may be followed by one or more federal air marshals onto a domestic flight. The armed, undercover marshal sits close enough to the person being followed to be able to make a detailed, minute-by-minute report. They note things like whether the person fidgets, sleeps, uses a phone or computer, sweats heavily, goes to the restroom a lot, changes clothes, or more importantly, whether the person has a "cold penetrating stare." In other words, descriptions that could fit virtually every teenager on any given flight in America.
The Quiet Skies program tracks, on average, 35 passengers per day, though none of those passengers are actually on a terrorist watch list. In recent months, several federal air marshals have expressed doubts internally, and now to journalists, about the legality of this spying on American citizens. But on Sunday, a TSA spokesman said the program is "no different than the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen. When you're in a tube at 30,000 feet, it makes sense to put someone there."
The same TSA spokesman said the program isn't technically surveillance because marshals don't listen in on phone calls or follow subjects around outside airports.
Just when you thought flying couldn't get any more uncomfortable.
The TSA has not released any information about how many terror plots have been foiled by Quiet Skies.
Just when you thought flying couldn't get any more uncomfortable. First, they made you take off your shoes. Then they took away your peanuts. Now the dude sitting next to you could be an armed spy, charting your every move. How bad do you really "Wanna Get Away" now?