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TSA air marshals have been secretly watching specific Americans for suspicious inflight behavior

U.S. federal air marshals have been secretly observing specific American travelers on domestic flights under a previously undisclosed program called "Quiet Skies," The Boston Globe reported Sunday. According to internal documents obtained by the Globe, "thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals" since the program began in March. The Transportation Security Administration, which runs the Federal Air Marshal Service, publicly acknowledged the Quiet Skies program later Sunday, declining to specify how passengers are targeted or if any arrests have resulted from the initiative but saying the program has been around in one form or another since 2010.

"We are no different than the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen," TSA spokesman James Gregory said. The Globe says air marshals follow about 35 Quiet Skies targets a day, observing them on a flight and recording such activities as fidgeting, using a laptop or smartphone, sweating heavily, or sleeping. "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," Gregory tells The Washington Post.

Gregory insisted the TSA does not single out travelers based on race, religion, or nationality, but privacy advocates aren't convinced. "Such surveillance not only makes no sense, it is a big waste of taxpayer money and raises a number of constitutional questions," ACLU staff attorney Hugh Handeyside said. "These concerns and the need for transparency are all the more acute because of TSA's track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong." Air marshals also tell the Globe and CNN that they fear the program may be unconstitutional and is certainly a potentially dangerous waste of money and human resources.