VIPR is the pits
Fergawdsakes. Just how many squads of armed Robocops running around rousting citizens for no good reason does this land of the free need?:
As hundreds of commuters emerged from Amtrak and commuter trains at Union Station on a recent morning, an armed squad of men and women dressed in bulletproof vests made their way through the crowds.
They even admit that this is mostly Security Theater. And that sounds so sweetly benign, doesn't it? But the effect of this isn't, in the end, to make little old ladies feel safer by confiscating the 8oz bottle of Geritol in their handbags. It's to train citizens to submit to authorities without probable cause. That's exactly what's happened in airports, after all. Americans are so docile about it that people in other countries are astonished to see us taking off our shoes and otherwise disrobing at airport security without even being told. (They don't have to.)
The squad was not with the Washington police department or Amtrak’s police force, but was one of the Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — assigned to perform random security sweeps to prevent terrorist attacks at transportation hubs across the United States.
“The T.S.A., huh,” said Donald Neubauer of Greenville, Ohio, as he walked past the squad. “I thought they were just at the airports.”
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.
“Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation,” said John S. Pistole, the administrator of the agency. “The VIPR teams are a big part of that.”
Some in Congress, however, say the T.S.A. has not demonstrated that the teams are effective. Auditors at the Department of Homeland Security are asking questions about whether the teams are properly trained and deployed based on actual security threats.
If what you desire is to make the Bill of Rights an anachronism, this is the sort of thing that works over time to make people wonder why they ever cared that they had any privacy or right to demand that authorities have good reason to stop and search them. Arguments against it already have the tone of something from another era:
“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,” said Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “It’s something that is easily abused because the reason that they are conducting the stops is shrouded in secrecy.”
That mentality says that the War on Terror means anything goes. Forever. And it's much more convenient than the communist threat ever was because they could actually declare the cold war over at some point. This one will never end. How could it? It's not a war against a state or even against certain people, it's a war against asymmetric war. That's not going anywhere.
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.
And anyway, so far it hasn't really been about terrorism at all. Surprise:
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.
Smell that freedom people!
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. Afterward, dozens of angry residents packed a public meeting with Houston transit officials to object to what they saw as an unnecessary intrusion by the T.S.A.
“It was an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Robert Fickman, a local defense lawyer who attended the meeting. “Did we need to have T.S.A. in here for a couple of minor busts?”
Also too: they called it "VIPR" like some cheesy cop show from 1976. Doesn't that say it all?