Saturday, November 19, 2011

TSA mission creep turning into mission leap

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration was formed to protect our nation’s airlines from terrorist attacks. But now the blue-gloved thugs of the TSA are showing up at train stations and on highways to hassle citizens under the guise of national security.
The agency’s mission creep – some say “mission leap” – is alarming from a number of angles.
As a fiscal conservative, I’m disturbed at how much we’re paying just for the TSA to perform its “security theater” at the nation’s airports, especially in these times of huge budget deficits.
A congressional report out this week says the U.S. government has spent nearly $57 billion over 10 years on TSA airport security described as wasteful and ineffective. (See earlier Tech-media-tainment post as well as new articles by Reason, Forbes, the New American and the Daily.)
And the TSA’s expenses are growing as it adds more questionable technology and seeks to expand its purview.
The agency acts like the U.S. government has bottomless pockets and citizens and their elected representatives will always pay more just to feel safer.
Some legislators are calling for the dismantling of the TSA, but that may be wishful thinking. Once created, government agencies are hard to kill. They take on a life of their own. And politicians like to play it safe, with none of them wanting to appear soft on domestic security. In Washington, it’s easier to say yes to more spending than it is to say no.
The TSA has a budget this year of $8.1 billion, compared with $1.3 billion in 2002. Its employment ranks have swelled to over 65,000 workers from 16,500 its first year.
I’m also concerned about what the TSA is doing to the civil liberties of Americans. The agency has trampled on citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures with its invasive full-body pat-downs and confiscating of benign items like perfume, shaving cream, beverages and grooming scissors.
TSA agents routinely tell people that they can’t be photographed or videoed doing their jobs, even though it’s entirely lawful.
In addition, the TSA has a disturbing record of lying to the public about its intentions. For instance, it continued to pat down children under 12 after it said it would stop the controversial practice. It also lied about privacy and health issues concerning its full-body scanners.
The TSA is notoriously secretive. It has refused to release its security record, the document embodying its enhanced screening procedures and other information.
Finally, the TSA is expanding its reach beyond airports into other modes of transportation.
In October, TSA agents harassed truckers on highways and travelers in bus stations in Tennessee. It was part of the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, which has conducted operations in other states as well, according to the Washington Times, the Sacramento Bee and Infowars.
In addition to airports, highways and bus terminals, the TSA is reaching its tentacles into train stations, subways, ferries, ports and tourist attractions. In a sign of how ridiculous things have gotten, the TSA even checked out a 296-foot-long funicular railway in Dubuque, Iowa, for security threats, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said the TSA’s expansion wasn’t mission creep, but “mission leap,” in a column in the Daily Caller.
The TSA is taking on the appearance of a secret police force like the Stasi or KGB. On the path it’s headed, it won’t be too long before TSA agents can walk up to anyone on the street and demand to see their “papers.”

Art: Parody poster showing actor Don Knotts, best known as bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” in an airport security uniform inspired by the German Gestapo. Photo from Free Republic, Angry White Dude and other websites.

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