Marshals Say They Must File One Surveillance Detection Report, Or SDR,
You could be on a secret government database or watch list for simply
taking a picture on an airplane. Some federal air marshals say they're reporting
your actions to meet a quota, even though some top officials deny it.
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
"Do these reports have real life impacts on the people who are identified
as potential terrorists?" 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski asked.
"Absolutely," a federal air marshal replied.
7NEWS obtained an internal Homeland Security document defining an SDR as a
report designed to identify terrorist surveillance activity.
"When you see a decision like this, for these reports, who loses here?"
"The people we're supposed to protect -- the American public," an
air marshal said.
What kind of impact would it have for a flying individual to be named in an
"That could have serious impact ... They could be placed on a watch list.
They could wind up on databases that identify them as potential terrorists or
a threat to an aircraft. It could be very serious," said Don Strange, a
former agent in charge of air marshals in Atlanta. He lost his job attempting
to change policies inside the agency.
That's why 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."
"Does that memo read to you that Federal Air Marshal headquarters has
set a quota on these reports?" Kovaleski asked.
"Absolutely, no doubt," an air marshal replied.
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.
The director of the Air Marshal Service, Dana Brown, declined 7NEWS' request
for an interview on the quota system. But the agency points to a memo from August
2004 that said there is not a quota for submitting SDRs and which goes on to
say, "I do not expect reports that are inaccurate or frivolous."
But, Las Vegas-based air marshals say the quota system remains in force, now
more than two years after managers sent the original memos, and that it's a
mandate from management that impacts annual raises, bonuses, awards and special
"To meet this quota, to get their raises, do you think federal air marshals
in Las Vegas are making some of this stuff up?" Kovaleski asked.
"I know they are. It's a joke," an air marshal replied.
"Have marshals in the Las Vegas office, I don't want to say fabricated,
but 'created' reports?" Kovaleski asked.
"Creative writing -- stretching a long ways the truth, yes," an air
One example, according to air marshals, occurred on one flight leaving Las
Vegas, when an unknowing passenger, most likely a tourist, was identified in
an SDR for doing nothing more than taking a photo of the Las Vegas skyline as
his plane rolled down the runway.
"You're saying that was not an accurate portrayal of a potential terrorist
activity?" Kovaleski asked.
"No, it was not," an air marshal said.
"It was a marshal trying to meet a quota ..." Kovaleski said.
"Yes, he was," the air marshal replied.
Strange said he didn't have a quota in the Atlanta office when he was in charge.
"I would never have done that ... You are going to have people reporting
every suspicious looking activity they come across, whether they in their heart
feel like it's a threat, just to meet the quota," Strange said.
Strange and other air marshals said the quota allows the government to fill
a database with bad information.
A Las Vegas air marshal said he didn't write an SDR every month for exactly
"Well, it's intelligence information, and like any system, if you put
garbage in, you get garbage out," the air marshal said.
"I would like to see an investigation -- a real investigation conducted
into the ways things are done here," the air marshal in Las Vegas said.
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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