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June 20, 2011
TSA Now Storming Public Places 8,000 Times a YearBy Tara Servatius
Americans must decide if, in the name of homeland security, they are willing to allow TSA operatives to storm public places in their communities with no warning, pat them down, and search their bags. And they better decide quickly.
Bus travelers were shocked when jackbooted TSA officers in black SWAT-style uniforms descended unannounced upon the Tampa Greyhound bus station in April with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and federal bureaucrats in tow.
A news report by ABC Action News in Tampa showed passengers being given the signature pat downs Americans are used to watching the Transportation Security Administration screeners perform at our airports. Canine teams sniffed their bags and the buses they rode. Immigration officials hunted for large sums of cash as part of an anti-smuggling initiative.
The TSA clearly intends for these out-of-nowhere swarms by its officers at community transit centers, bus stops and public events to become a routine and accepted part of American life.
The TSA has conducted 8,000 of these security sweeps across the country in the past year alone, TSA chief John Pistole told a Senate committee June 14. They are part of its VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program, which targets public transit related places.
All of which is enough to make you wonder if we are watching the formation of the "civilian national security force" President Obama called for on the campaign trail "that is just as powerful, just as strong and just as well funded" as the military.
In a massive flex of muscle most people didn't know the TSA had, the agency led dozens of federal and state law enforcement agencies in a VIPR exercise that covered three states and 5,000 square miles. According to the Marietta Times, the sweep used reconnaissance aircraft and "multiple airborne assets, including Blackhawk helicopters and fixed wing aircraft as well as waterborne and surface teams."
When did the TSA get this powerful? Last year, Pistole told USA Today he wanted to "take the TSA to the next level," building it into a "national-security, counterterrorism organization, fully integrated into U.S. government efforts."
What few people realize is how far Pistole has already come in his quest. This is apparently what that next level looks like. More than 300 law enforcement and military personnel swept through a 100-mile stretch of the Ohio Valley alone, examining the area's industrial infrastructure, the Charleston Gazette reported.
Federal air marshals, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, the Office of Homeland Security and two dozen other federal, state and local agencies teamed up to scour the state's roads, bridges, water supply and transit centers under the TSA's leadership.
What is remarkable about these security swarms is that they don't just involve federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The TSA brings in squads of bureaucrats from state and federal agencies as well, everything from transportation departments to departments of natural resources.
The TSA had received no specific threats about the Tampa bus station before the April sweep, reporters were told.
They were there "to sort of invent the wheel in advance in case we have to if there ever is specific intelligence requiring us to be here," said Gary Milano with the Department of Homeland Security in an ABC News Action television report. "This way us and our partners are ready to move in at a moment's notice."
Federal immigration officials from Customs and Border Patrol swept the station with the TSA, looking for "immigration violations, threats to national security" and "bulk cash smuggling." (How the bulk cash smuggling investigation related to national security was never explained.)
"We'll be back," Milano told reporters. "We won't say when we'll be back. This way the bad guys are on notice we'll be back."
The TSA gave the same vague answers when asked about the three-state sweep this week. That sweep wasn't in response to any specific security threat, either.
The purpose was to "have a visible presence and let people know we're out here," Michael Cleveland, federal security director for TSA operations in West Virginia told the Gazette. "It can be a deterrent."
It might be -- if Americans are willing to live this way.
Tara Servatius is a radio talk show host. Follow her @TaraServatius and on Facebook.
UPDATE 23Jun 2011
TSA Theft of Passenger Valuables a Nationwide Problem
POSTED AT 1:59 PM ON JUNE 20, 2011 BY HOWARD PORTNOY
Houston, you’ve got a problem. Every airport does, and it goes by a familiar name: TSA theft.
In the case of Houston, the problem was Transportation and Security Administration agent Karla Renee Morgan, who decided to augment her salary by helping herself to the contents of passengers’ luggage as it passed through her security checkpoint.
The solution for Houston Police was to lay a trap. An undercover cop turned a wallet containing $1,000 in marked bills in to Morgan, claiming he had found it. By a remarkable coincidence, when Morgan headed out at the end of her shift, authorities discovered an identical wallet with identically marked bills in her backpack. The “lost” wallet had never been turned in to airport lost and found.
The apprehension of Morgan, who has been charged with a misdemeanor crime, is a law enforcement coup. Or it would be if it weren’t such pitifully small potatoes in the world of TSA crime.
In 2009, a TSA screener at Newark Liberty International Airport by the name of Pythias Brown was sentenced to three years in federal prison on multiple counts of grand larceny. Known to eBay buyers as “Alirla,” Brown had run the largest one-man theft ring in the short history of the Transportation Security Administration, netting an estimated $400,000 via the resale of stolen high-priced electronics.
And even Brown represents just the tip of the iceberg. According to TSA records, press reports, and court documents, Brown is just one of some 500 TSA officers who have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November of 2001. The airports servicing New York City—John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty—harbor the most flagrant offenders, but virtually no city in the nation is safe from the TSA’s sticky fingers.
In 2009, a half dozen TSA agents at Miami International Airport were charged with grand theft after boosting an iPod, bottles of perfume, cameras, a GPS system, a Coach purse, and a Hewlett Packard Mini Notebook from passengers’ luggage. Travelers passing through the airport’s checkpoints reported as many as 1,500 items stolen, the majority of which were never recovered.
In May of this year alone, TSA agents were arrested on the suspicion of theft at airports in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
So what’s the TSA’s response? That the ratio of crooks to non-crooks within the agency is minuscule—less than one half of one percent. The agency’s blog even assigns concrete numbers: Out of more than 110,000 employees, 200 have been accused of stealing. Assuming (big assumption!) that 200 is the absolute number of thieves within the agency’s ranks, that’s still 200 chances to pass through airport security and come out on the other side minus your valuables. In the meantime, you can look forward to invasive pat-downs,potentially dangerous irradiation from scanners, and the knowledge that the agency has an iffy record when it comes to detecting legitimate threats. If that doesn’t make you feel all warm and cuddly when you fly, nothing will.
- Latest TSA fail: Four massive chef’s knives waved through O’Hare security
- TX officials become TSA “grope” victims: Rekindle calls for anti-groping measure
- TSA takes toy away from mentally challenged man
- Former TSA supervisor at Newark jailed for stealing from passengers
- TSA reveals Newark airport has major security problems
- How safe are the scanners the TSA is using in airports?
- Rape victim arrested, manhandled after refusing TSA pat down
Here are the 19 reports of police misconduct tracked in our National Police Misconduct News Feed for this Wednesday, June 22, 2011:
- Meriden CT police subject of 2 different excessive force suits involving officer who is police chief’s son http://bit.ly/jmBvBa
- Craven Co NC deputy arrested after investigation showed he lied about fatal 100mph patrol car accident http://bit.ly/inmhYm
- Albany NY settles suit for $250k to family of man killed in crash w/police cruiser that ran red light while responding to call  http://bit.ly/jZ6bO2
- Knoxville TN police sued by 70yr-old woman who lost use of arm after mauled by police dog that got loose http://bit.ly/mSR1kz
- New Orleans LA cop accused by humane society probe of excessive force in fatal shooting of 3-legged pit bull http://bit.ly/klOxyL
- US Park police arrest 2 reporters in DC at public taxi commission meeting, one was arrested for taking pictures http://bit.ly/jDA69a
- South Burlington VT cop sued alleging he illegally searched woman for drugs 2x in 6mo, including a forced x-ray and a strip search in a public restroom  http://bit.ly/jZWSGc
- 2 Talbot Co GA deputies & a Talbotton GA cop arrested on unspecified charges in federal drug corruption probe http://bit.ly/j3azKg
- Hamtramck MI cop pleads guilty to informing motorcycle club that the FBI was investigating & wiretapping them http://bit.ly/mhRUsY
- Columbus OH police sgt charged w/felony & misd sexual imposition involving caretaker while he was on sick leave  http://bit.ly/lmQcrc
- Harlandale TX ISD police officer fired after allegedly pulling gun during argument with man in a bar http://bit.ly/k99fsG
- 4 Alton IL cops sued by man claiming they falsely arrested him, DA dismissed charges citing lack of probable cause  http://bit.ly/l7RLLm
- Raleigh NC cop allegedly fired as part of probe into a number of officers accused of having sex w/prostitute http://bit.ly/mjBrp4
- Niagara Falls NY cop sentenced to probation, treatment & community service on domestic violence conviction http://bit.ly/ms1b7g
- Bartlesville OK police & police union sued by 2nd officer claiming harassment, discrimination & retaliation http://bit.ly/kaPvZw
- Philadelphia PA police institute reforms in settlement w/black cop’s assoc over racial internet comments by cops http://bit.ly/joS89A
- Albany Co NY settles suit for $85k to clerk claiming the sheriff did nothing to stop harassment by undersheriff http://bit.ly/moWZ1Z
- Smith Co TX deputy fired for unspecified reasons weeks after another deputy forced to resign after DUI arrest http://bit.ly/inEk8H
- Solon OH cop sentenced to $1000 fine, 3 days jail & 3 days treatment in plea to DUI charge for crashing into tree  http://bit.ly/jJHj03