I can see why people are freaking out about this.
The Federal Air Marshals have a program called Quiet Skies, it's been revealed. It mainly seems to involve teams of air marshals following otherwise ordinary passengers, and cataloging the things they do on flights.
What kinds of things? At the end of this post, I'll list 51 things that federal air marshals are apparently tracking, according to internal documents obtained and published by The Boston Globe.
If you're going into law enforcement, it seems like the Federal Air Marshals have perhaps the most boring job in the entire field. Former air marshal Clay Bines said he used to intervene with drunk passengers just to have something to do.
More than that, the federal air marshals probably have the worst reputation of any federal law enforcement. Reportedly, they've never actually stopped a terrorist.
And in April, the New York Times reported that employees call the air marshals an "agency in crisis," with so much alcohol abuse that it has some employees whose job is simply to "monitor whether the armed guards show up for their flights sober."
Bines, the former air marshal who wrote a book about his experience, described the culture as, "a big party," with low morale, where "people go get drunk."
So, should we be worried that the federal air marshals are apparently tracking otherwise normal people?
I mean, there are reports that they sent a team of air marshals to observe a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. ("Cannot make this up," one of the air marshals involved apparently wrote to colleagues.)
My take is that it's not so much the fact that ordinary Americans are being surveilled; it's more about whether the people who are doing the surveilling are competent. And an alarming number of the agency's own people apparently are telling the media: No, we're not competent.
Here's a list of 51 specific things the federal air marshals are apparently looking for when they follow specific travelers. It's not really secret; the agency posted a video on Youtube explaining some of this three years ago. And the Globe also published the whole list.
But you tell me: If there's any reasonable chance that tracking seemingly random people might ultimately help prevent a terrorist attack in the skies, would you object?
Even if it meant somewhere there's a notation in a database about how often you went to the bathroom? Let us know in the comments below.
For now, here are some of the things they're apparently looking for and tracking:
1. Reversing or changing directions and/or stopping while in transit through the airport
2. Attempting to change appearance by changing clothes, shaving etc. while in the airport or on the plane
3. Using the reflection in storefront windows to identify surveillance
4. Observing the boarding gate area from afar
5. Boarded last
6. Observing other people who appear to be observing FAM team and/or subject
7. Excessive fidgeting
8. Excessive perspiration
9. Facial flushing
10. Rapid eye blinking
11. "Adam's apple jump"
12. Rubbing/wringing of hands
13. Strong body odor
14. Sweaty palms
16. Cold penetrating stare
17. Exaggerated emotions
18. Gripping/"White knuckling" bags
19. Wide open, staring eyes
20. Face touching
21. Lost weight
22. Gained weight
25. Hair length/style change
27. Visible Tattoos (Describe)
28. Visible Piercings (Describe)
31. Apparent Altered Experience (Explain)
32. Clean shaven
33. Checked baggage?
34. In possession of cell/smartphone?
35. In possession of multiple phones?
36. Used phone to talk?
37. Used phone to text?
38. In possession of computer?
39. Seated in first/business class?
40. Used lavatory?
41. In possession of any unusual items?
42. Traveled with others?
43. Met with others in the airport?
44. Engaged in conversation with others?
45. Subject initiated conversation with FAM?
46. Carryon baggage?
47. Other notable activity?
48. Subject engaged in "more than casual contact" with airport or airline employee?
49. Picked up at curbside shuttle, taxi, bus or public transit?
50. Picked up at curbside by private vehicle?
51. Obtained rental car for transportation