TSA: Bringing Its Watchful, Officious and Useless, Eyes Everywhere in America
The New York Times notes an annoying trend toward total police state in America, with "the Transportation Security Administration's Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — assigned to perform random security sweeps."
Yes, what sounds like a second-rate terror-crime cartel that a minor Marvel superhero might be punching out is roaming the land:
With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals. Not everyone is happy.
T.S.A. and local law enforcement officials say the teams are a critical component of the nation's counterterrorism efforts, but some members of Congress, auditors at the Department of Homeland Security and civil liberties groups are sounding alarms. The teams are also raising hackles among passengers who call them unnecessary and intrusive….
Civil liberties groups say that the VIPR teams have little to do with the agency's original mission to provide security screenings at airports and that in some cases their actions amount to warrantless searches in violation of constitutional protections.
Ha, how naive, says TSA—what constitutional protections? Was that a common phrase back in a bygone century? We are living POST 9/11 now, suckers!
T.S.A. officials respond that the random searches are "special needs" or "administrative searches" that are exempt from probable cause because they further the government's need to prevent terrorist attacks.
Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the T.S.A. has grown to an agency of 56,000 people at 450 American airports. The VIPR teams were started in 2005, in part as a reaction to the Madrid train bombing in 2004 that killed 191 people.
The program now has a $100 million annual budget and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008. T.S.A. records show that the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year, including those at the Indianapolis 500 and the Democratic and Republican national political conventions.
The teams, which are typically composed of federal air marshals, explosives experts and baggage inspectors, move through crowds with bomb-sniffing dogs, randomly stop passengers and ask security questions. There is usually a specially trained undercover plainclothes member who monitors crowds for suspicious behavior, said Kimberly F. Thompson, a T.S.A. spokeswoman. Some team members are former members of the military and police forces.
God knows what level of totally normal appalled alarm at these gestapo tactics would seem "suspicious." But don't worry. The magic rock is working–no bears!
T.S.A. officials would not say if the VIPR teams had ever foiled a terrorist plot or thwarted any major threat to public safety, saying the information is classified. But they argue that the random searches and presence of armed officers serve as a deterrent that bolsters the public confidence.
How confident are you feeling, citizen?
In 2011, the VIPR teams were criticized for screening and patting down people after they got off an Amtrak train in Savannah, Ga. As a result, the Amtrak police chief briefly banned the teams from the railroad's property, saying the searches were illegal.
In April 2012, during a joint operation with the Houston police and the local transit police, people boarding and leaving city buses complained that T.S.A. officers were stopping them and searching their bags. (Local law enforcement denied that the bags were searched.)
The operation resulted in several arrests by the local transit police, mostly for passengers with warrants for prostitution and minor drug possession…
J.D. Tuccille from June on how our right to domestic travel is becoming more and more a bureaucratic nightmare.