"Big Domestic Surveillance Grab": Air Marshal Blows Whistle on TSA's Silent Partner and Quiet Skies Programs

Jan. 6 and Trump's presidency have unmasked the lengths to which our government will go to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. The TSA's Silent Partner and Quiet Skies domestic surveillance programs stretch the imaginations of even the most conspiratorial among us. So much so that when UncoverDC reports on these Big Brother-type programs, it often invites vicious levels of skepticism and trolling on social media as to the veracity of the claims. "This has to be a mistake," they say. "There is no way an infant is purposely on this suspected terrorist list," others cry. "Bureaucratic incompetence!" Right? No.

While the disbelief and cognitive dissonance are understandable, it is high time Americans get with the program here. This stuff is real. It is happening. And it is no joke. No one wants to believe this level of domestic surveillance is happening in America. However, retired Supervisory Federal Air Marshal and whistleblower Sonya LaBosco has walked us through it, and all I can say is you'd best believe it all.

LaBosco is now the Executive Director of the Air Marshal National Council (AMNC), a private organization that advocates for FAMS (Federal Air Marshals). She is highly concerned about the way air marshals are being exploited by the TSA to target and track Americans who have been designated as Suspected Domestic Terrorists (SDTs) with little or no credible basis to do so. In her Nov. 21, 2023 Fox News interview, LaBosco shares the fact that valuable law enforcement resources are being diverted away from tracking legitimate threats to the Homeland. Quiet Skies and Silent Partners, says LaBosco, have "yielded exactly zero terrorists, zero results. Not one—from the TSA program that spends about $394 million to surveil Americans without a solid basis to do it. It is just one big domestic and lucrative (for TSA) surveillance grab." Her statement referencing zero returns on their investment is confirmed by a 2020 DHS OIG report on the Quiet Skies program.

Additionally, as shown in LaBosco's Oct. 10, 2023 letter to TSA Chief David Pekoske, FAMS are also being actively deployed to the border instead of using their highly specific training and expertise to protect Americans on flights. One letter sent on Nov. 14, 2022, to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, states it is an unlawful use of agency funds, according to the Appropriations Clause.  Acting Deputy Inspector General Kristen Fredricks responded on Feb. 6, 2023, confirming her office was investigating the claims. LaBosco sent several such letters to others, including one to DHS Secretary Mayorkas in June.

While the TSA and Quiet Skies surveil and target J6ers, real "terrorists" are committing crimes. A Mar. 8, 2023 letter from Londo and LaBosco to Secretary Mayorkas and Chief Pekoske illustrates perfectly the dangers of surveilling the wrong people. LaBosco described two recent incidents during flights, one on a United flight in March 2023 and another on a JetBlue flight in November 2022. Individuals on the flights managed to bring knives onboard, threatening to kill people or "take control of the aircraft."

She and Londo ask, "How many wake-up calls is it going to take" before air marshals are assigned their proper duties? During the JetBlue incident, the letter states, "Director Stevenson deployed 200 plus FAMs a month to the southern border to perform humanitarian duties." When the AMNC blew the whistle on the border deployments, "they were forced to stop the deployment," their letter continues. "Mr. Stevenson has taken almost 800 million dollars of taxpayer money and used it to divert valuable resources to perform duties completely unrelated to TSA's core mission of transportation security."

Jan. 6 Unmasks Domestic Surveillance Programs in America

LaBosco has been mainly focused on a subset of individuals targeted by the Silent Partner and Quiet Skies programs, namely individuals whose names were scrubbed by the FBI in partnership with TSA after Jan. 6. LaBosco has provided UncoverDC with several documents that indicate there has been a coordinated effort to use and abuse the flight manifests of passengers who flew into the "National Capitol Region" between Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, including BWI Airport in Maryland. LaBosco shared that "the FBI came to the TSA asking for the manifests of everybody who flew in and out of the capital region between Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 2021. The TSA shared the list with the FBI and also ingested it into the TSA's national security database." 

LaBosco has seen the records contained in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSCB). The record used by FAMS to surveil citizens shows a photo of the target. A code on the form also indicates they are a suspected Domestic Terrorist. The record lists the category of their offense and, according to LaBosco, "Many of the records say they broke into the capitol when they may not have." LaBosco adds, "There are people who weren't even at the rally or at the Capitol. There are people that were just in the area for vacation."

Air marshals often report their activity to her because they question the legitimacy of their having to waste resources on surveilling innocent, "uninvestigated" Americans. LaBosco explains some of what she hears from her FAMS:

"They ask me, 'Why am I doing this job? This doesn't feel right. I feel like I am violating their constitutional rights.'" LaBosco then explains that people "have no clue they are being followed. They'll be talking to people they are surveilling, and they tell me this person is harmless. They probably should realize not to talk so much to someone they don't know. They do not realize they are being followed. And sometimes we follow them from their houses. It isn't just in an airplane or an airport. 

In some cases, we have been following people since 2001, and the air marshals get to know them because they have been with them so much. They tell me, 'This person is no threat.'"

It is even more astonishing to find out that, according to LaBosco, "The TSA has in some instances gone one step further and put on their internal sheet that this person or that broke into the capitol when they never did any such thing." The TSCB is a "U.S. Government consolidated database maintained by the Department of Justice (DOJ), FBI, and the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) to facilitate DHS mission-related functions, such as counterterrorism, law enforcement, border security, and inspection activities." The program began in 2003. And in 2010, data began to be transmitted in a centralized manner via the DHS Watchlist Service (WLS) to ensure DHS has "an authoritative, traceable, and reconcilable feed of the TSDB for use in the Department's mission."

To illustrate the reality of her claims, LaBosco showed UncoverDC the record of the wife of an active air marshal who was in D.C. on Jan. 6, placed on the list, but never even stepped a toe inside the Capitol or the surrounding grounds. This is a factual event, supported by multiple documents and correspondence between LaBosco and AMNC President David Londo and various government officials and members of Congress in early 2023. LaBosco's Jan. 16, 2023 letter to several committees and members of Congress lays out the "improper" classification of innocent Americans as "Domestic Terrorists" on internal TSA/FAMS databases and watchlists, using the case of the wife of an active Federal Air Marshal to illustrate a real-world example of the unconstitutional surveillance.

The ironies and absurdities discussed in the letter are many. Her spouse, an air marshal himself, holds a top-secret clearance and can carry weapons on aircraft. He often travels with his wife. The wife was never questioned or even approached by law enforcement about where she was on Jan. 6. or how she might be "a domestic terrorist." And teams of FAMS were assigned to "surveil her every move."

In addition, LaBosco shared the list contained "the names of dozens of on-duty FAMS, Congressional members, and other armed LEOs on the list," according to a Jan. 15, 2021 letter from LaBosco to TSA Chief David Pekoske. According to the letter, the list was sent to Special Agent in Charge John Muth of FAMS Incident Coordination Section(ICS). Muth "refused to scrub the list." LaBosco wrote a column about this incident for UncoverDC in April 2023. Her exposé, coupled with an appearance on Kyle Seraphin's podcast, may have pressured the powers that be to correctly remove the Air Marshal's wife from the Quiet Skies list. This removal is not easily accommodated because the program seems capriciously and secretively controlled by the TSA. 

On Monday, Nov. 28, former FBI agent and whistleblower Kyle Seraphin wrote a column for UncoverDC exposing a Jan. 11, 2021 letter from Bennie Thompson (D-MS) alluding to his concerns about the "insurrectionists [who] attacked the United States Capitol...inflicting violence upon elected officials." Thompson writes that these unwashed "perpetrators have continued to enjoy freedom of movement throughout the country. Only a fraction of the insurrectionists have been arrested...and the Federal government has not prevented a single insurrectionist from boarding an aircraft." Without proof,
Thompson also accuses "several" of having "harassed and threatened to harm Members of Congress, flight crewmembers and the public while traveling." He was apparently worried they would return to D.C. to cause havoc and "violence" during the upcoming inauguration."

In his opening remarks ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol "riot" hearings, Thompson says he plans to be "guided solely by the facts" because this investigation "is no place for politics or partisanship," but then proceeds to repeatedly characterize every protestor at the Capitol with every form of inflammatory, biased language possible. It is plausible to believe from the letter and as Seraphin states, Thompson's immediate concern...was punishing those who came to Washington, D.C. without trial or investigation." It can be argued that Thompson's letter, in concert with his beliefs about Trump supporters, may have been one of the factors that predicated TSA's use of the TSDB and the Quiet Skies program to surveil innocent Americans, even those who were not at the Capitol protests but happened to be in D.C. Of note, at the time LaBosco wrote her Jan. 15, 2021 letter with her concerns about the Quiet Skies surveillance list to Chief Pekoske, she had no idea the Thompson letter existed. 

What Happens at the Airport When Your Boarding Pass Has the Dreaded Quad-S?

Once an individual is placed in the Quiet Skies program, they lose many privileges associated with unencumbered travel. As discussed in two recent UncoverDC articles here and here, Quad-S's or SSSS (Secondary Security Screening Selection) are usually placed on the bottom right of a boarding pass or sometimes penned in with a sharpie. The Quad-S designation signifies that your travel is about to enter the seventh circle of Hell. In both cases reported by UncoverDC, the J6 defendants missed multiple flights and, in one case, had to buy all new tickets.

The Secure Flight program under TSA helps to identify passengers according to risk. It "matches names against trusted traveler lists and watchlists." LaBosco confirms what a suspected terrorist-designated passenger under Quiet Skies can expect:

"You know the online services that you can check in? You can check your bag in online and then give it to the curb. All that stuff's done. Once you're on this list, you cannot check in remotely. When you go to the ticket counter, you're going to see the ticket counter person freak out because it's going to show on a computer that you're one of those bad, bad people.

They're not going to let you take your own luggage from the ticket counter. TSA is going to come and get your luggage for you. They will take your luggage if you're going to check it in, and then they'll escort you to the security line. They will then put you through special, extra security. You will be searched, every pocket, hem, and zipper is swabbed. You are made to open all your devices and power them on.

Then you're going to go through security. They're going to have people watching you going through to your gate. When you get to the gate, TSA's going to reverse screen you again. They're going to come to the gate and pull you and your family. Whoever you're flying with now is on the list, too, so your entire family. So Brian's got small kids or grandmothers or whoever was flying with him. They're all going to be on the list because they're flying with him. They will be at all connecting flights. They will rescreen at the gate, take your luggage, go back through it, and you're going to have a minimum of three air marshals on the flight.

If you are on standby, air marshals will be on standby. On one flight, we had nine air marshals on standby for one elderly lady. She didn't even do anything. She wasn't even at the Capitol." 

15 Years Minimum On Quiet Skies List: TSA Decides Who and When

One of the most disturbing discoveries in this surveillance madness is the duration of your time enrolled in the Quiet Skies program. Your removal is entirely determined by the capricious and secretive whims of whoever in the TSA decides you have behaved well enough to travel by air. According to this 2019 Privacy Impact Assessment Update for Secure Flight Silent Partner and Quiet Skies, you will be on the Quiet Skies list in some form or another for a minimum of 15 years–seven of them will be active.

Here is the breakdown: 

"An individual selected under Silent Partner will be retained in CBP's ATS for seven years...and then for an additional eight years in dormant status under which user access is more limited. Records reflecting that an individual was selected for enhanced screening as a match to the Silent Partner List or Quiet Skies List will be held in TSA's Secure Flight system for seven years in accordance with the Secure Flight records retention schedule. When a passenger selected for enhanced screening as a match to the Silent Partner List or Quiet Skies List is involved in an incident (for example, a prohibited item is found), records will be retained pursuant to normal incident reporting protocols pursuant to DHS/TSA-001 Transportation Security Enforcement Records System SORN."

And if that doesn't adequately terrify you, you are realistically at the complete mercy of the TSA with regard to the actual length of time on their list. "TSA formulates rules for Silent Partner and Quiet Skies to address unknown and partially identified threats." In other words, it's TSA rules, TSA's opinion as to whether you can be fully cleared or go back into "active" status, and TSA's decision about what behaviors constitute terroristic behavior. God forbid you say or do the wrong thing to some random agent, argue with a flight attendant, or chat with a plain-clothed Fed along the way. It is no exaggeration to say that there is little comfort to be found in this bureaucratic surveillance nightmare.

Your information will also be updated on multiple Homeland Security sites. According to the 2020 Privacy Impact Assessment for the Watchlist Service document, multiple agencies receive "bulk data updates from the TSDB through the DHS WLS." They are: TSA Office of Transportation Threat Assessment and Credentialing; TSA Secure Flight; CBP Passenger Systems Program office for inclusion in TECS; the CBP's US-VISIT program for inclusion in the DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT); the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A); ICE; the CBP's Automated Targeting System (ATS). WLS was expanded in 2020 to "convey additional national security threats beyond known or suspected terrorists (KST) like Transnational Organization Crime (TOC) members via Executive Order 13863."

LaBosco says this type of surveillance is rigged to fund the TSA and trample on the constitutional rights of average, innocent American citizens. And it doesn't even protect air marshals. She explains: 

"There was a shooting incident at a Florida airport, and our air marshals had to email someone to get permission to get the shotguns out of the closet at the airport. Meanwhile, people were shot. Their weapons have to stay locked up in an office. They are handcuffed from doing their jobs. There is no point in even having an air marshal if you can't use your discretion and your training. The best way to get human intel is through a human. Instead, we direct trillions to screening equipment and TSA contracts. But It has become political. And it isn't keeping us any safer. It is just more bureaucratic red tape to jump through. And if they complain, they lose their clearance." 

Most importantly, says LaBosco, with programs like Quiet Skies, "You can forget your rights, protected speech, all of it. It doesn't matter to them anymore. They stack the deck against Americans. It's about drowning people where they can't get out."

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