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Air Marshals Secretly Followed an Artsy Virginia Mom on Flights to Make Sure She Wasn't Going to Destroy America

More details emerge on TSA's secret, suspicionless surveillance of certain American travelers.

TSA searchGary C. Caskey/UPI/NewscomVisit Turkey recently? If you have, air marshals may be snooping on you during your domestic travels.

Among the travelers followed under a secret Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program recently exposed by the Boston Globe were a professional basketball player and a social media manager for an arts and crafts company.

Neither of these women was actually suspected of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity. Nor, apparently, were thousands of others surveilled and trailed under the TSA's Quiet Skies program, which launched in 2012 and expanded significantly this year. But Courtney Vandersloot, the basketball player, and Taylor Usry, the social media manager, were tracked by air marshals and were subjected to heightened security screening, all because they had gone to Turkey.

The Boston Globe tracked down Usry in Williamsburg, Virginia. She wasn't spied on during her trip to Turkey, where she took some arts-and-crafts courses. It was when she returned that the surveillance began. In July she flew to Florida for work. Plainclothed air marshals followed her, kept track of everything she did, kept records of her behavior, and even rode on the flight with her down to Tampa to keep tabs on her.

That's creepy enough, but she was also subjected to very extensive hands-on screening and security pat-downs—intrusive enough that they made her cry, she tells the Boston Globe. She also had an encounter in line with a chatty, friendly man who asked her all sorts of questions that she now sees in a new light. (Her husband thought the man was flirting with her.) She was also selected for one last "random" bag check at the gate.

Vandersloot went to Turkey to play professional basketball there. She has a work visa to do so, and she says the U.S. government knows full well what her business in the country was. She even qualified in 2016 for a program that expedites travel clearances for people who are considered low risk. Nonetheless, she tells the Globe that she was singled out for extensive searches during her domestic trips.

Civil rights and privacy groups are up in arms. The secretive surveillance appears completely unattached to anything resembling risk or threat assessment: Essentially the program calls for suspicionless surveillance of Americans for the purpose of finding out whether they're a potential threat. Some air marshals themselves have criticized the program, not being enthusiastic about spending their time spying on people who are not under investigation for any actual wrongdoing.

But the TSA has defended the snooping and says it will continue, despite its intrusiveness, its ineffectiveness, and the fact that many of the people carrying it out think it's a waste of time.

Photo Credit: Gary C. Caskey/UPI/Newscom

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  • SQRLSY One||

    We're assholes & we'll keep on being assholes...

    ...because we can!!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Look, do you want them to occupy themselves with busywork or do you want them actively engaging more grandmothers in wheelchairs? Your choice.

  • Jerryskids||

    But the TSA has defended the snooping and says it will continue, despite its intrusiveness, its ineffectiveness, and the fact that many of the people carrying it out think it's a waste of time.

    And to think, it wasn't that long ago we were a nation of laws operating under a Constitution where this sort of thing would seem inimical to our values. But the terrorists kicked our pussy asses on 9/11 and there's no indignity we won't suffer at the hands of our brutalizers if only they'll promise to protect us from the "bad guys". Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Sadly, the terrorists got far more than they expected.

  • Tionico||

    Yup. Then they rolled out the TSA I said "they won". We sat down and took it.

    Next came the body snatchers, er, scanners. Again, they won (so did the company that made them and had them warehoused ready for deployment the instant the false flag panty bomber incident "developed". I seem to remember some congresscritter had a large vested interest in the development and deplyment of those horrid machines)

  • LynchPin1477||

    Look at the 17-year response to 9/11 and the more recent hysteria about Russian election hacking, and then try imagine what it would be like if we were in a protracted, no-shit war against a major power. It may very well make the Japanese interment during WWII look tame.

  • Juice||

    And to think, it wasn't that long ago we were a nation of laws operating under a Constitution where this sort of thing would seem inimical to our values.

    Whatchootalkinabout?

  • Shirley Knott||

    From 'they hate us for our freedoms' to 'therefore we will abandon those freedoms for security.'
    It was quite stark.

  • Hugh Akston||

    but she was also subjected to very extensive hands-on screening and security pat-downs—intrusive enough that they made her cry

    Then it was all worth it.

  • Longtobefree||

    Crying? There's no crying in security searches.

  • LynchPin1477||

    My take: They're just doing it for the frequent flyer miles.

  • LynchPin1477||

    In all seriousness, I hope some enterprising attorney comes up with a way to challenge this on Constitutional grounds. Sure as shit seems like it ought to be unconstitutional.

  • Longtobefree||

    It is in fact unconstitutional.
    So what?
    mutter mutter something something terrorism.
    Welcome to the peoples republic.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I would like to hear what legal arguments there are for and against. At first glance it seem like it ought to be a 4th Amendment issue but nothing is technically being seized and I assume the government would say that nothing is being searched, since this is just using publicly available information following people around in public.

  • Robert||

    That's what I would think: that anyone could legally do this.

    Not only that, but what's wrong w research like this? If you can learn things about human behavior by studying patterns, why not? It doesn't even require informed consent, because you're not asking or getting anything from the subjects. This would pass IRB revlew easily.

  • BigChiefWahoo||

    And what would the Plaintiffs' damages be? Remember, you gotta have a case or controversy to maintain an action in federal court. Can anyone realistically claim such surveillence has damaged them in any quantifiable way?

  • BYODB||


    The secretive surveillance appears completely unattached to anything resembling risk or threat assessment: Essentially the program calls for suspicionless surveillance of Americans for the purpose of finding out whether they're a potential threat.


    Um, yeah. That's the entire security apparatus. It's shit, but noticeably a bunch of American's hating these programs and their clear violation of the constitution isn't enough to get rid of them so...

  • Aresen||

    "But the TSA has defended the snooping and says it will continue, despite its intrusiveness, its ineffectiveness, and the fact that many of the people carrying it out think it's a waste of time."

    Apparently, they are an outlaw unto themselves.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well be reasonable.
    The only places you do not have full constitutional rights are within 100 miles of a border, at any airport, at any federal courthouse, at any state courthouse, at any government office, at any school or educational institution, at any roadside traffic stop, and in states where permits are required for firearms. And, of course, online.

  • Tionico||

    Simple solution: when you suspect the TSA goons are "making" you, start doing silly things..... side trip into the loo where you change your outer clothing. When you emerge, head back into the direction from which you came. Walk in large circles, go out the wrong concourse then double back, then down another one, and back. If the clown still "sticks" to you, boldly and unashamedly walk straight up to him, extend your hand to shake his, say "Hi, I'm so and so (maybe a nickname he would not know from your travel docs, or make one up), glad to meet you.

    Two can play cat and mouse..... what's he gonna do, arrest you for walking in strange patterns in an airport?

    Maybe show up at the airport so early he hasn't got there yet, then go sit in the wrong boarding gate area and read for an hour. No trail. If a heavily travelled route, see if there isn't an earlier flight identical to yours, ask at the gate if you can hop on that one instead... if there is room they'll often let you. The gate might not know you're tagged......

    anything to mess with their heads.

  • LynchPin1477||

    what's he gonna do, arrest you for walking in strange patterns in an airport?

    Probably

  • DrZ||

    "But the TSA has defended the snooping and says it will continue, despite its intrusiveness, its ineffectiveness, and the fact that many of the people carrying it out think it's a waste of time."

    Well, it all makes sense, but to have it make sense you cannot think of this snooping as being a Constitutional issue, but if you think of it as a job creation program then it all comes together.

    It's all a frame of reference.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Good thing they're unionized, or they'd really be pissing people off.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    Who was President in 2012, again?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Civil rights and privacy groups are up in arms.

    Which one?

  • NashTiger||

    Did either of these gals blow up a plane? No? Job well done then

  • texexpatriate||

    Anyone who still believes that the U.S.A. is a free society probably still believes in fairies. It no longer is even the most free nation on earth. Such a person may still believe that the nation is a democratic Republic, as was intended by the Founders. It ain't. It is a federal tyranny run by corrupt elected politicians and unelected corrupt bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Don't be mistaken. D.C. is the District of Corruption.

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