TSA Says They’ve Stopped Filing Reports on Average Americans in the Airport and on Flights But It’s Not True

Over the summer the Boston Globe revealed the existence of a TSA program to follow ordinary Americans and note their habits and behaviors for a file even though these passengers are on no threat list.

People like you, me, and flights attendants got our own personal air marshals to watch us and report back to the government. (They “receive[..] a file containing a photo and basic information — such as date and place of birth” and they’ll be “taking notes on whether travelers use a phone, go to the bathroom, chat with others, or change clothes.”)

It turns out that after following thousands of Americans not a single person turned out to even be worth any additional followup.

TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Tocqueville)

The TSA claimed that ordinary citizens weren’t being caught up in the Quiet Skies surveillance program but that was revealed to be a lie. In March a TSA official gave a deposition stating they do “not perform intelligence collection on passengers at airports” and that turns out to be the same month that the program was expanded. In addition to giving false testimony, there are legal questions raised by surveillance of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing.

    Liam Neeson Was an Air Marshal in the 2014 film “Non-Stop”

Now TSA wants you to believe they’re no longer tracking ordinary passengers as though they were terrorists. You should not believe them.

Agency officials told the Globe that air marshals no longer document the minor movements and behavior of these travelers, such as whether they fidget in the airport, go to the bathroom during the flight, or seem, according to the agency’s own checklist, to have a “cold, penetrating stare.”

The agency said it has also has stopped following passengers through baggage claim and no longer compiles extensive reports on travelers who failed to rouse suspicions.

Here’s why I’m skeptical:

  • the government has lied under oath about this program before. Why wouldn’t they mislead when not under oath?

  • the director of the Federal Air Marshal service says “Any routine passenger behaviors on a plane that would be seen as a normal behavior we are no longer capturing that,” however the truth is that they “will continue to monitor some travelers who have not been suspected of any crimes, but will not collect as many details about them.”

Here’s the checklist they used while watching average Americans:

The TSA has failed to meaningfully detect dangerous items going through the checkpoint for years. Two years ago their disclosed 95% failure rate seemed shocking and surprising to many but is hardly new, ten years ago they had a 91% failure rate.

The TSA has never caught a terrorist. You can’t argue their mere presence stops terrorist attempts at that level of failure. How exactly are they deterring anything?

Five years ago the TSA itself admitted in court documents that were accidentally leaked,

“As of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports; instead, their focus is on fundraising, recruiting, and propagandizing,” the TSA said.

In addition, the brief states that “the government concedes that it would be difficult to have a repeat of 9/11 due to hardened cockpit doors and the willingness of passengers to challenge hijackers rather than assume a hijacking merely means a diversion to Cuba…

[T]he government admits that there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11.”

Let that sink in for a moment. The true threat assessment came out and most people either didn’t notice or forgot. Will anyone pay attention now that we know thousands of people are getting their own armed agents watching them on flights for no reason whatsoever, even if TSA now says they’ve stopped reporting back when we sleep and go to the bathroom?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’s suspicious if you sleep during a flight and it’s suspicious if you’re so unaware of your surroundings that you fall asleep. Geez, what a joke.

  2. The government is lying about being a liar? Wow. Who knew.

    It’s pretty much time to start over, isn’t it? Both “sides” are cancer.

  3. I’m pretty incompetent . Is this a requirement for the job?

    What scares me more is Gary taking over thought leadership. He might be responsibly for transmitting thoughts that caused the MH disappearance

  4. When did we decide to do away with the Constitution and install TSA and the air marshals as our masters?

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