I spent much of a recent flight carefully examining the faces and demeanor of my fellow passengers. Wondering which one was on a mission to monitor me. That would have seemed preposterous just a few days ago, but not now that I know the TSA has been routinely assigning federal air marshals to track regular Americans. Those would be Americans with no criminal or terrorist history. This covert tracking is the core of a program called Quiet Skies.

Turns out the skies are actually not quiet at all, but are bustling with this previously unreported, surreptitious tracking. As the Boston Globe Spotlight team reported, it’s not out-of- the-ordinary activities that put unsuspecting flyers under this security microscope. And I’ve done most of them. For example, I prefer to check in early for my flight, I also typically reverse directions or stop in the gate area because I am directionally challenged, and I enjoy a good nap on a plane. Plus, I regularly aim cold penetrating stares at chatty seatmates who rudely interrupt my reading. Add to that both documented cases of TSA racial profiling, as well as the nation’s ongoing history of surveillance of black and brown citizens, and I’m sure I’ve got my own federal marshal watching me.

Say what you will about Edward Snowden, but the whistleblower in exile warned us all about widespread domestic surveillance, about which most citizens were then unaware. The TSA has long had an ongoing secret effort to follow passengers with suspicious travel histories. But in March the agency expanded the program to include otherwise non- suspicious passengers. We wouldn’t know about any of this if it weren’t for federal marshals concerned about this deeper breach of personal privacy. In the Globe report, some of the estimated 3,000 armed marshals complained that targeting Americans with no criminal or terrorist history was labor intensive and, most importantly, ineffective. The undercover marshals warned that Quiet Skies is actually undermining national security, by pulling some of the armed marshals away from tracking more likely terror candidates like those already on a watch list.

Meanwhile, 40 to 50 Quiet Skies targeted passengers are on domestic flights every day, not knowing they are being tracked. Potentially this secretly gathered data could be used to turn innocent individuals into enemies of the state. I’m not naive about the need for effective security, but I am both furious and scared about the secret spying. And I am chilled by Edward Snowden’s June interview with the Guardian Newspaper, exactly five years after he revealed surveillance documents to the world. Snowden says he has no regrets about his actions saying, “The people are still powerless, but now they’re aware.”