The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is expanding out of airports and into central transportation hubs across the country. They are performing random security sweeps to safeguard against threats of terrorism. These “sweeps” also include sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals.
Not many people have fond memories of body scans, magic wands, and requests to remove belts, jackets, and shoes. Subsequently, not many are too excited about the development.
Specifically, TSA is sending out Visible Intermodal Prevention Response teams, or VIPR.
“Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation,” says TSA administrator, John S. Pistole.
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This recent development has attracted criticism from both security hawks and civil liberty watchdogs. Auditors at the Department of Homeland Security have raised questions over the effectiveness and training of the response teams.
“The problem with T.S.A. stopping and searching people in public places outside the airport is that there are no real legal standards, or probable cause,” says Khaliah Barnes, legal counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Shrouded in secrecy, the agency’s searches easily arouse suspicions of abuse.
According to TSA Spokeswoman, Kimberly F. Thompson, these VIPR teams include an air marshall, an explosives expert, bomb-sniffing dogs, and often several specially trained undercover plain-clothes officers.
The trouble is, TSA cannot speak to its own defense. Apparently, the existence of any foiled terrorist plot is “classified.” However, when the National Security Agency came under fire earlier this year, its director defended the program by citing at least 50 cases of foiled terrorist plots.
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Local law enforcement, however, has welcomed the teams, perhaps for easing their burden.