Monday, July 18, 2011

And what if the security loophole is closed?

People in the United States live in a relatively free society, although some of those freedoms have been limited after September 11, 2001. Because the 9/11 terrorist attacks used planes, our response has primarily been to change the way we do things on planes. Fewer and fewer of us remember the time when we could meet arriving passengers directly at the gate; nowadays, the gate is behind multiple layers of security.

Yet I can still head down the street and board a local bus without getting an X-rated photo of myself.

Well, I can do that now. Matt Munson quotes from a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) message, produced in conjunction with my local bus provider Omnitrans, that indicates some changes are afoot.

Omnitrans already regularly cooperates with local law enforcement and first responders to enhance the safety and security of our system. Soon we
will begin partnering with TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

A program known as VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) will deploy teams of government law enforcement officers at Omnitrans transit centers. VIPR teams will conduct random searches at transit centers including at passenger waiting areas and on board Omnitrans vehicles. Some officers will be in uniform and others will not. In some cases bomb-sniffing dogs may be used. The VIPR program will help detect and deter potential threats to our customers, our employees and our community.

Munson, a Republican with libertarian leanings, opposes this, as does Mother Jones:

As part of the TSA's request for FY 2012 funding, TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress last week that the TSA conducts 8,000 unannounced security screenings every year. These screenings, conducted with local law enforcement agencies as well as immigration, can be as simple as checking out cargo at a busy seaport. But more and more, they seem to involve giving airport-style pat-downs and screenings of unsuspecting passengers at bus terminals, ferries, and even subways.

Now I have a beef with the Mother Jones writer - why was the word "unsuspecting" used in the last sentence above? Frankly, if I'm being patted down, I'm going to notice.

And Paul Joseph Watson, an associate of Alex Jones, doesn't like the fact that VIPR is being extended to freight trucks:

Up until now, commercial trucks and other vehicles only were subject to warrantless searches and radiation scans at specially designated “state-owned inspection stations” traditionally set up at rest stops next to highways. These internal checkpoints, run by Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the TSA, involve trucks being scanned with backscatter x-ray devices in the name of “safety” and “counter terrorism”.

These inspection stations are now being expanded to normal roads and highways, unleashing an army of TSA agents who will be given a free hand to litter America with internal checkpoints in a chilling throwback to Soviet-style levels of control over the population.

Somehow I get the feeling that Watson opposes this move.

Not that VIPR is new; TSA was issuing statements about VIPR back in 2007, talking about efforts going back to 2005:

Following the Madrid train bombings, TSA stepped up its efforts to enhance security on rail and mass transit systems nationwide by creating and deploying Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. Comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosives detection canine teams, VIPR teams over the past two years have augmented security at key transportation facilities in urban areas around the country, including New York City, Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., Los Angeles, Boston and Providence, R.I.

Of course, any mention of the Madrid train bombings reminds us that our law enforcement efforts are not always perfect. I work in the biometrics industry, and the name "Brandon Mayfield" is bandied about a lot in my industry.

Now VIPR and the TSA didn't have anything to do with Mayfield, but there is a school of thought that claims that if these TSA security efforts are not 100% accurate, why expand them?

However, bear in mind that you're probably not going to run into a VIPR team any time soon. The dreaded expansion that has everyone up in arms is the TSA's request to increase the number of VIPR teams from 25 to 37.

And it also illustrates a profound misunderstanding of our government. People concentrate on what national police agencies do, while forgetting that the vast majority of law enforcement is not conducted by the TSA or the FBI, but by local police agencies. So while we're waiting for VIPR to hit the Montclair (California) Transcenter, other police actions are possibly more important:

The claim [against the city of Upland, California] ... was sent ... in January 2010 by Dieter Dammeier, police union attorney, on behalf of Upland police Sgt. John Moore....

The claim alleges [police chief Steve] Adams, [former mayor JP] Pomierski and [former city manager Robb] Quincey “went to great lengths to conceal, cover up and hide possible criminal activity” by the city manager, who was fired Wednesday night....

Moore’s accusations stem from a domestic dispute he and another Upland officer investigated on July 27, 2008, involving Quincey and an ex-fiancee....

Following the incident, Moore alleges in the claim, Adams, Quincey and others asked Moore to destroy the report.

And you're worried about some VIPR teams roaming the country?
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