FLASHBACK: Innocent People On No-Fly List To Meet Quotas

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“Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft … and they did nothing wrong,” says an anonymous U.S. Air Marshal, back in 2006. This is to meet quotas set in place that require Air Marshal’s to make at least one report a month on a suspicious person.

It’s important to remember this story as the debates heat up over whether or not to put people from the “no fly” list on the “no buy” list for firearm purchases.

Denver’s KMGH had the story, from 10 years ago:

These unknowing passengers who are doing nothing wrong are landing in a secret government document called a Surveillance Detection Report, or SDR. Air marshals told 7NEWS that managers in Las Vegas created and continue to maintain this potentially dangerous quota system.

“Do these reports have real life impacts on the people who are identified as potential terrorists?” 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski asked.

“Absolutely,” a federal air marshal replied.

7NEWS obtained an internal Homeland Security document defining an SDR as a report designed to identify terrorist surveillance activity.

“When you see a decision like this, for these reports, who loses here?” Kovaleski asked.

“The people we’re supposed to protect — the American public,” an air marshal said.

That could have serious impact … They could be placed on a watch list. They could wind up on databases that identify them as potential terrorists or a threat to an aircraft. It could be very serious,” said Don Strange, a former agent in charge of air marshals in Atlanta. He lost his job attempting to change policies inside the agency.

That’s why several air marshals object to a July 2004 memo from top management in the Las Vegas office, a memo that reminded air marshals of the SDR requirement.

The body of the memo said, “Each federal air marshal is now expected to generate at least one SDR per month.”

“Does that memo read to you that Federal Air Marshal headquarters has set a quota on these reports?” Kovaleski asked.

“Absolutely, no doubt,” an air marshal replied.

Las Vegas-based air marshals say the quota system remains in force, now more than two years after managers sent the original memos, and that it’s a mandate from management that impacts annual raises, bonuses, awards and special assignments.

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