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If there were no terrorists, they’d have to invent them

July 24, 2006

Are you too tall? Too short? Too round? Too square? Too conspicuous a color of iPod in your ear? Then you, too, may already have won a slot on a terrorist watchlist, that you can never be taken off of.

But it’s all in a good cause. If you were allowed to fly, some poor air marshal in Las Vegas would have been deprived of his bonus, or even his promotion. As channel 7 in Denver reports:

The air marshals, whose identities are being concealed, told 7NEWS that they’re required to submit at least one report a month. If they don’t, there’s no raise, no bonus, no awards and no special assignments.

“Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft … and they did nothing wrong,” said one federal air marshal.

These unknowing passengers who are doing nothing wrong are landing in a secret government document called a Surveillance Detection Report, or SDR. Air marshals told 7NEWS that managers in Las Vegas created and continue to maintain this potentially dangerous quota system.

What does that mean, quota? You mean, like, some kind of vague affirmative action? Or are we talking hard numbers?

…several air marshals object to a July 2004 memo from top management in the Las Vegas office, a memo that reminded air marshals of the SDR requirement.

The body of the memo said, “Each federal air marshal is now expected to generate at least one SDR per month.”

Oh. But no pressure, right?

A second management memo, also dated July 2004, said, “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.”

Another federal air marshal said that not only is there a quota in Las Vegas for SDRs, but that “it directly reflects on (their) performance evaluations” and on how much money they make.

For example, one marshall decided that a passenger who snapped a photo of the skyline as the plane took off looked suspicious enough for him.

I had a boss once whose hobby was touristing around Iron Curtain countries on his summer vacation. Bulgaria, Romania, wherever, the second his camera came out, all of a sudden there was a crappy little two-passenger black sedan following him around.

We don’t do it that way here in America. If you get classified as an Al Qaeda wannabe because you came within the orbit of an agent suffering a slow month, it’ll be sooo much less annoying. Instead of the black sedan, you (and all your friends and relatives) just get a little ol’ NSA wiretap on your cell phone. Forever. Or until Senator Specter’s Go Ahead And Wiretap Whoever The Hell You Like And We’ll Keep The Judges Out Of Your Hair Act of 2006 expires. Whichever comes first. (See analysis of the act’s contents here, by Anonymous Liberal, who links to several other analyses.)

And just to be on the safe side, how about a wire on that funny colored iPod, too?

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