The Transportation Security Administration reached out to clarify a July report that said federal air marshals were following ordinary U.S. citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list under the “Quiet Skies” program.
The Boston Globe reported that the previously undisclosed program specifically targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a March TSA bulletin, with the goal of intercepting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists.”
In a post today on the TSA blog, social media manager Bob Burns called “Quiet Skies” an “important program” that “allows the Federal Air Marshal Service to more efficiently deploy law enforcement resources to focus on travelers who may present an elevated risk to aviation security.”
“Through TSA’s Secure Flight Program and by leveraging Custom and Border Protection’s Automated Targeting System, TSA’s intelligence professionals develop a set of risk-based, intelligence-driven scenario rules, which allow us to identify international travelers who may require enhanced screening. These rules have strict oversight by the Department of Homeland Security, including the privacy, civil rights and liberties, and general counsel offices,” he wrote.
“TSA uses this program to reduce the risk on airplanes by identifying passengers deemed to be higher risk according to certain travel patterns and other intelligence-based factors. Contrary to some reporting, the program does not take into account race or religion, and does not designate individuals based on their observed behaviors onboard an aircraft. As trained law enforcement officers, Federal Air Marshals observe passengers in accordance with their training. When FAMs are informed that a traveler identified through the intelligence-driven scenario rules will be on a particular flight or in the airport, they are able to observe the traveler in the airport and on the flight. Passengers referred to the program may require additional scrutiny for a certain period of time; however, TSA routinely removes passengers from the program sooner than the prescribed period if we become aware of information that indicates the passengers do not represent a risk.”
Burns added that air marshals “have a difficult and important job: they must remain vigilant at all times, and operate at 30,000 feet in tight quarters.”
“Air marshals receive specialized training in a variety of law enforcement techniques including blending in with other aviation travelers and identifying when something is out of the ordinary in the aviation environment,” he said. “They are prepared to react to a wide spectrum of criminal and terrorist events and activities.”