TSA

TSA: Bringing Its Watchful, Officious and Useless, Eyes Everywhere in America

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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."

Amarand Agasi / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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.

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  1. But they argue that the random searches and presence of armed officers serve as a deterrent that bolsters the public confidence.

    1984 anyone?

    1. You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
      Back in the USSR, yeah

  2. Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

    1. Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

      An adherent of the Church of Guilianism!

      Preach it brother!

    2. Seeking permission demonstrates dangerous levels of personal initiative. No, it’s best to stay quiet and wait until they tell us what to do.

  3. The operation resulted in several arrests by the local transit police, mostly for passengers with warrants for prostitution and minor drug possession…

    A grateful nation casts their gratitudeful eyes full of gratitude towards our magnificent VIPR team saviors!!

    1. “The operation resulted in several arrests by the local transit police, mostly for passengers with warrants for prostitution and minor drug possession…”

      And they probably got the guy with a couple of parking tickets, too!

      1. Well, there was that one guy they got that was supposed to be wearing glasses while driving.

        1. Feelin’ safer all the time!

  4. 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.

    IT’S IN THE CONSTITUTION. (Somewhere in the back I think.)

    1. one of the super secret addenda most likely…

    2. Do these BS-spewing “officials” have names?

      1. That’s classified.

        1. We’ll see, when it’s “face your accuser” time.

          1. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

            Oh wait, you believe that?

  5. I’ve posted this a couple of times with little response, but the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been reporting on an increasing trend of intrusive stops and searches by DHS/CBP agents of private pilots operating within the US. In this article, an early one on the topic, AOPA details a stop and search that allegedly rendered the pilot’s aircraft unairworthy (FAA regulations require certified mechanics to undertake certain types of aircraft disassembly that the searchers have done illegally in some instances).

    In addition, the AOPA indicates that CBP has access to FAA and military aircraft tracking systems that are being used to profile certain flights as suspicious.

    1. I noticed. That is rather disturbing. And what would you bet that the searches are done in the hopes of finding drugs or other non-terrorism related law breaking?

      1. You mean they lie about their intentions? Why I never!

      2. In the case I linked to, the pilot was stopped twice on a trip from New York to California–it is implied that he was stopped once in Oklahoma or Iowa, I forget which, because he had stopped in Colorado, whicch had recently legalized marijuana.

        1. db, wasn’t that the one where the previous owner of the airplane got popped for drug trafficking? Regardless, what got me when you first posted the story was just how much hardware and personnel these clowns used for the search. IIRC, they had a Citation orbiting the field, a King Air 350 dropping off CBP guys, a van full of “Go! Go! GO!” types in full tactical kit. Jesus, could those guys have overreacted any more?

          He’s lucky he didn’t get shot.

    2. It was covered, as I recall, one of the guys whining let them search, so he gets no sympathy.

      1. Doesn’t seem like they were given much choice, at least in the article db links to.

      2. Oh, yeah, well case fuckin’ closed, then.

  6. Mission Creep is still a myth. You fucking terrorist peon ingrates.

  7. I know it’s been said, again and again, but I’ll say it anyway (and Godwin be damned):

    Your papers, please?

    1. For full godwination, you need the original German.

      Papiere, Bitte.

      1. Your capitalization is incorrect. You write like… a foreigner, mmmm?

        1. I don’t actually speak Germ, sorry.

  8. As long as you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s the problem? Right? What’s there to fear if you don’t have any warrants, drugs, unknown contraband, or anything that the searcher doesn’t recognize? As long as you don’t make eye contact, look away, look at your feet, make furtive movements, have your shirt untucked, your hands in your pockets, look straight ahead, look all around, or otherwise act suspicios, what’s the problem? I mean, they’re only looking out for your safety.

    1. You forgot dogs.

    2. I got my bag rifled through the other day at a subway station – I was in a hurry, I was flustered, and I was pissed off. It was a real struggle to keep a blank expression on my face and keep my mouth shut. The thought of being tasered or worse if I mouthed off like I wanted to, helped.

      1. You submitted? No sympathy. You have no valid complaint if you didn’t go to jail over your right to not be harrassed.

        /this is what some folks here actually believe

  9. How messed up is your organization, when AMTRAK calls you out for stupidity above and beyond the call?

    1. And the fact that they were searching people getting off of the train really puts lie to the claim that they are doing it to protect transportation infrastructure and not trying to bag people for drugs, outstanding warrants and whatnot.

      1. They might catch a terrorist that just forgot to set off his bomb.

        1. so they watched Source Code?

  10. This is exactly what we need to encourage people to use public transportation.

    1. Hey, if government can force you to eat broccoli …

  11. Lunchtime funnies:

    Korean news agency has a bit of fun making up fake American names for the pilots and passengers of Southwest flight 345, whose nose gear collapsed on landing at La Guardia on July 24.

    The Korean news quoted “Captain Kent Parker Right,” among others.

    1. “Kent Parker Wright”

    2. Apparently the text in the lower-right reads “HaHa News”

    3. First Officer Pat McGroin.

    4. “Captain Kent Parker Right,”

      Outrage! Racist! Offensive! Racist! Outrage!

  12. Jesus. It just gets worse and worse.

    All I can think of when I read news like this is “How soon until one of these clowns tries to search me and I respond violently?”.

    And what a nice end-run around Constitutional rights. All for the sake of “Safety”. If only the GOP would actually act like they valued personal freedom for a split second and campaign against this mindless security theater.

    1. All I can think of when I read news like this is “How soon until one of these clowns tries to search me and I respond violently?”.

      You are not alone.

      1. Don’t respond violently. Just don’t comply. Violence gets you a beatdown and makes them right.

        1. Nothing makes them right.

        2. That’s what I’m wondering. This makes it sound like you might be waiting for the train and a TSA agent will start talking to you. Can I just ignore them? Just keep my eyes forward and pretend I don’t hear them?

          I’m not interested in a conversation right now, and you don’t have a warrant to go through my things. Would that reasoning hold, or would I be tackled for disorderly conduct and/or disobeying an officer?

          1. They ask random people questions…give them random answers. “Where are you going?” “Cheeseburger”

    2. I refuse to fly because if one of those TSA fucks touched my daughter I’d end up in prison.

  13. Just want to point out that there’s no way anyone 15 years ago would have responded calmly to the TSA searching people disembarking from a train, but society accepts it because safety/children/pick something.

    And they mock us for the slippery slope argument.

    1. They mock the slippery slope argument because they are liars. It’s that simple.

      As they tell you that something will never happen they are actively making plans to do exactly what they say will never happen.

      They are liars.

    2. I’ve been pointing this out since the Valuejet accident started the “papers please” BS: This is what we fought the cold war to avoid.

      Enough…. round up every TSA goon from every level, and send them back to high school to learn about the Constitution. If they bitch about just doing their job, then they can read up on Nuremburg trials. Then, any who don’t hang themselves out of remorse ought to be locked up for life.

    3. It’s strange because in the example given, the TSA was searching people getting off the train. Those people’s opportunity to disrupt transportation security was effectively over. Even now, I would expect most people to be put off if the TSA started searching people at the airport when they were getting off their flights.

      1. Even now, I would expect most people to be put off if the TSA started searching people at the airport when they were getting off their flights.

        You’re so very optimistic.

  14. So when are we going to get the House calling for the dissolution of the TSA?

    1. Right after about never.

  15. 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 confidenceOBEDIENCE.

    FIFY.

  16. 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 confidenceOBEDIENCE. that all these guys get paid and are in line for sweet pensions so it’s all worth it…eh citizen!

    1. “No we’re not listening to your phone calls”

      “No, we’re not reading your emails”

      “VIPR has been very successful”

      Lies, lies and more lies!

      1. “The truth is what I say it is, goddamnit.”

  17. Why doesn’t the TSA just cut to the chase and call itself The Guild of Calamitous Intent?

    1. Hate You Can Trust.

  18. The rock keeps away tigers, not bears. The Bear Patrol keeps away the bears.

  19. On a more serious note: “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.”

    Bolstering public confidence is one of my least favorite justifications for actions by the government. It reminds me of a Supreme Court case from the 1970s that upheld campaign finance laws (at least partially) on the grounds that such laws gave the American people confidence in the legitimacy of the system, or something along those lines. So what if the law violated the First Amendment, it made people feel good. Also, maybe people should have a little less faith in the system. Perhaps people would be better off with a healthy skepticism that the government isn’t always acting in our best interests.

  20. My first encounter with the VIPR program came when I was getting on a bus back to the DC burbs. This was mid-Winter ’06-ish, and Priceline had put me in a hotel three blocks from the Port Authority, so I went online and got a Trailways fare that matched what I’d pay for the buses outside Madison Square Garden, without having to wait in line outside MSG in the cold and wind.

    (For those who don’t know, there are 15-20 companies that have buses outside MSG, some good, some sketchy Asian).

    So it’s all good, but then they want to search my dufflebag before I can get on, and I’m like — too hungover to do anything.

    Seriously, they were “investigating” one of 15 buses leaving for DC–that HOUR! And the average Port Authority rider was well into their ’50s, plus dumb enough to pay for a ticket there that was typically $35-50, as opposed to, you know, $12 or something from Megabus. (And those Trailways buses are from the ’70s.)

    It was last time I ever took the bus to NYC. Afterwards I’d either park by the Staten Island Ferry or crash in Long Island City at one of the hotels that gave free parking.

  21. 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.

    Meaning, no, no they haven’t. If they had, they’d be crowing about it to the four winds.

  22. “Yes, what sounds like a second-rate terror-crime cartel that a minor Marvel superhero might be punching out is roaming the land”

    Sending strong guys in masks to punch out Agents Of VIPR is actually a pretty good idea.

  23. Hey, Reason’s own Steve Chapman is shilling for the surveillance state today: http://www.chicagotribune.com/…..442.column

  24. Seems simple enough to me — if the search is warrantless on national security grounds, then any criminal evidence it turns up is inadmissible in a trial.

    Constitutionally, they cannot have it both ways.

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