ANDERSON, Ind. – The former head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is defending a controversial program that tracks some airline passengers who aren’t under criminal investigation.
The program was first revealed in a report by The Boston Globe on Sunday and has prompted some members of Congress to question its intent and outcomes.
Called “Quiet Skies,” the program was started under then TSA Administrator John Pistole who is now president at Anderson University. The intent, Pistole said in an interview with CBS4, is to identify passengers who federal authorities believe may pose a risk.
“It’s something that most people if they knew about would say it’s a great thing,” Pistole said during the interview in his office on the campus of Anderson University Tuesday afternoon. “Others who perhaps don’t have all the information, as I understand, have companied about some of the privacy, civil liberties issues which were all vetted when we started the program eight years ago.”
The program has undercover federal air marshals watch passengers at an airport or on a flight – including some who have not been accused of a crime or put on a terror watch list. The Boston Globe reported some of the criteria undercover air marshals look for include excessive fidgeting, sweating or having a “cold, penetrating stare.”
Pistole said the monitoring includes people who are known to federal officials and those who aren’t and said Tuesday he isn’t sure whether the program has led to any arrests.
“In almost all instances, it almost never rises to the level of ok we need to do something,” he said. “It’s always a balance. So sometimes a dynamic tension between privacy, civil liberties and security that everybody wants. But the question is at what price?”
Members of Congress almost instantly started raising questions.
A spokesperson for Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transpiration Committee which has jurisdiction over the TSA, said in a statement Tuesday, “The Senator is aware of the reports and is actively working with the committee to investigate the program.”
Pistole, who said a review is probably warranted, defended the program and its intentions. The former administrator and former deputy director at the FBI maintains his security clearance and still acts as an advisory role for national security officials in Washington.
“To have the confidence there is someone on board who is trained to detect and prevent something bad from happening,” he said. “And from something bad I mean a plane being blown out of the skies.”