Saturday, 17 November 2018

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Mother-of-two reveals armed air marshals shadowed her every move at Charlotte airport and even recorded when she touched her face before flight to Florida - but TSA claims they don't follow 'ordinary' travelers

By Nic White, For DailyMail, On 20 August 2018, Read Original

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Taylor Usry arrived early at Charlotte Airport for a routine business trip to Tampa last month, but she wasn't alone.

A team of air marshals was secretly following and meticulously recording her every move - what she ate, where she sat, and every time she checked her phone.

Two armed agents even followed her on to the flight and continued the surveillance operation in Tampa until she left the airport for her meeting.

The 39-year-old is not a criminal or on any terrorism watch lists - she's an ordinary mother-of-two working as a social media manager for an arts and craft company.

All she did to warrant such extreme scrutiny was visit Istanbul for a work-related course in May, according to TSA records seen by the Boston Globe.

'Honestly, I'm not unique, I don't do anything special. I have two kids, a cat, and a dog. I drive a Suburban,' she said.

Turkey is a particular focus of the controversial Quiet Skies program, which has singled out 5,000 U.S. citizens this year.

Ms Usry even successfully applied for the TSA's pre-check program weeks before the flight to Tampa. to make her frequent travel easier.

Logs showed the marshals recorded when Ms Usry touched her face, sweated, how she looked, and a host of other minor details.

A team of air marshals was secret following and meticulously recording her every move - what she ate, where she sat, and every time she checked her phone
 

A team of air marshals was secret following and meticulously recording her every move - what she ate, where she sat, and every time she checked her phone

She believed one even chatted to her as they waited in line to board, acing 'super friendly' to probe for details about her trip.

'He asked where I was staying. He was so nice and friendly. He gave me restaurant recommendations. In hindsight, it is weird and creepy,' she said.

In addition to surveillance, Ms Usry was also treated to the most invasive security screening the TSA could muster.

She was body scanned and aggressively patted down by officers and her luggage swabbed, and she was even asked about what underwear she had on.

Frazzled from not getting enough sleep before her return journey, the triple-checking ordeal brought her to tears as she tried to head home.

However, she had no idea it was all part of the elaborate anti-terrorism program until the globe told her, and then she was shocked.

'I'd like my government to explain to me why my tax dollars are best spent surveilling completely innocent citizens, violating their privacy, and making ordinary people feel as though they've behaved in a manner that invites skepticism and scrutiny,' she said.

Other people revealed by TSA documents and whistleblower marshals to have been monitored included star WNBA point guard Courtney Vandersloot.

WNBA player Courtney Vandersloot was also targeted numerous times because she played in Turkey for the past three seasons
 

WNBA player Courtney Vandersloot was also targeted numerous times because she played in Turkey for the past three seasons

The 29-year-old got the treatment on several flights with her teammates, and like Ms Usry was pulled out of security lines for 'pretty extreme' searches.

She too was asked about her underwear, despite being approved in 2016 for Global Entry program that gave her expedited clearance.

The Seattle native played in Turkey for the past three seasons, which was what earned her a big enough red flag for Quiet Skies.

Michael Alter, who owns WNBA team Chicago Sky, which she also plays for, was also outraged by his player's treatment.

'I would like to believe the government has more important things to do with their time and money than follow WNBA players around the country, or any other person for that matter,' he said. 

The TSA has repeatedly insisted, since the program was revealed last month, that it doesn't do surveillance on 'ordinary citizens'.

However, just these two cases appear to contradict that party line as travel to Turkey was all either of them had to do to warrant invasive checks.

Quiet Skies is a TSA domestic surveillance program that specifically targets travelers who are not under any kind of investigation or on a terrorist watch list
 

Quiet Skies is a TSA domestic surveillance program that specifically targets travelers who are not under any kind of investigation or on a terrorist watch list

According to records, they fit the criteria of using U.S. passports, being aged between 16 and 50, and spending more than seven days in Turkey after flying on a one-way ticket. 

TSA also hid the program for months, failing to disclose it in an ongoing lawsuit against it by Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The agency does 'not perform intelligence collection on passengers at airports', TSA official Hao-Y Froemling said in a March 20 deposition.

Legal experts also question whether the program is even legal, given the invasion of privacy with apparently flimsy justification. 

Air marshals earlier told the Boston Globe they believe the Quiet Skies program is a costly waste of time that may even be unethical.

A TSA bulletin states that the purpose of Quiet Skies is to decrease threats by 'unknown or partially known terrorists and to identify and provide enhanced screening to higher risk travelers before they board aircraft'.  

All U.S. citizens are automatically screened for inclusion in the Quiet Skies program. 

The previously undisclosed TSA program requires federal air marshals to follow ordinary US citizens through airports and on flights, documenting their every move
 

The previously undisclosed TSA program requires federal air marshals to follow ordinary US citizens through airports and on flights, documenting their every move

There are 15 rules to screening passengers for the program, with criteria including international travel patterns, behaviors that match those of known or suspected terrorists, or potential affiliations with someone on a watch list. 

Passengers on the list have included a businesswoman who traveled to Turkey, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and even a fellow federal law enforcement officer.

When a passenger on the Quiet Skies list is selected for surveillance, a team of air marshals is placed on their next flight. 

The marshals are given a file that contains a photo of the target as well as their basic information, including when and where they were born. 

They then observe the target at length from the minute they get to the airport in one destination and leave it in another. 

Marshals must note whether they were 'abnormally aware' of their surroundings, which could include reversing or changing directions in the airport, 'attempting to change appearances' by changing clothes or shaving on the plane, and boarding late or 'observing the boarding gate from afar'. 

Behavior indicators that marshals must track are excessive fidgeting or perspiration, facial flushing, rapid eye blinking, strong body odor, sweaty palms, a 'cold penetrating stare', wide open staring eyes, face touching, and an 'Adam's apple jump'. 

They must also note if the target's appearance has changed, including whether they've gained or lost weight, whether their hair length or style has changed, and if they've changed their facial hair.

General observations that are tracked include whether the target used a phone to talk or text, if they were in possession of a computer, did they check their baggage or take a carry-on, and if they used the bathroom. 

Federal air marshals must track everything about the person's behavior, referring to a lengthy checklist to make minute by minute observations
 

Federal air marshals must track everything about the person's behavior, referring to a lengthy checklist to make minute by minute observations

Marshals must also know if the subject used public or private transportation to leave the airport after their flight. 

Passengers can remain on the Quiet Skies list 'for up to 90 days or three encounters, whichever comes first', TSA documents state. 

Thousands of Americans have already been tracked under the program and there are about 40 to 50 Quiet Skies passengers on domestic flights every day. 

Around 35 of them are always being observed by air marshals.   

Dozens of air marshals have expressed their concern with Quiet Skies since it launched in March. 

Some marshals have gone as far as to seek legal counsel, fearing that the domestic surveillance program could be illegal. 

Others believe the program is a waste of taxpayer dollars and only diverts time and resources away from legitimate threats. 

The Air Marshal Association has also spoken out against the program.  

'The Air Marshal Association believes that missions based on recognized intelligence, or in support of ongoing federal investigations, is the proper criteria for flight scheduling. 

'Currently the Quiet Skies program does not meet the criteria we find acceptable,' it said in a statement.