Civil Liberties

Homeland Security Quotas

Crime Fiction

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When you're flying in and out of Las Vegas, what happens on your plane may not stay on your plane. Thanks to a quota system imposed on federal air marshals working in that city, you're taking a gamble on being added to a federal watch list.

According to reports from marshals themselves and documents obtained by Denver ABC News affiliate KMGH, higher-ups in the Department of Homeland Security have leaned on their employees to make sure they file at least one "surveillance detection report" a month. While the officials insisted they don't want to encourage frivolous, useless reports, some marshals complain that's exactly what the directive does.

One marshal told KMGH, "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." The marshals say the number of detection reports they produce affects their pay, bonuses, and promotions. Worse, quotas can turn virtually anyone into a suspect: One marshal told of a man being reported merely for taking a photo of the Vegas skyline from the plane as it taxied.

A follow-up memo to the marshals spelled out the seemingly contradictory directive: "There may come an occasion when you just don't see anything out of the ordinary for a month at a time, but I'm sure that if you are looking for it, you'll see something."

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