Alleged Air Marshal Quotas: Do Nothing Wrong; End Up on a List

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According to a report by a Denver news station, air marshals are under a quota to create one Surveillance Detection Report, or SDR a month.

The article quotes air marshals as saying that they may add someone to a watch list even though there was nothing to report just to meet the quota. If true, this article seems to support Dan’s points about information gathering and relates to his Nothing to Hide post . The idea that one could be added to lists for suspected terrorist activity simply to show some illusory level of effectiveness points to why some restraint on information gathering practices must be in place. In some cases this function may be performed by insiders who try to raise objections. That ideal, however, does not seem to work in this case. One air marshal apparently lost his job when he objected to the policy.

According to the article, some choice language from two July 2004 memos about the subject include “Each federal air marshal is now expected to generate at least one SDR per month” and “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.”

HT: Slashdot


To be fair the service issued a memo in August 2004 stating that there is no quota and that “I do not expect reports that are inaccurate or frivolous.” (It is unclear who the I was in that quote.) Still, the marshals interviewed claim that the policy is in place and that their pay and performance is affected by having enough reports. An example of a questionable report was a tourist taking a picture of the Las Vegas skyline which the interviewed air marshal said was not an example of potential terrorist activity.

The final part of the article states “Although the agency strongly denies any presence of a quota system, Las Vegas-based air marshals have produced documents that show their performance review is directly linked to producing SDRs.”

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